A proposal for legal, medicinal cannabis would allow licenced growers to use illegal cannabis seed to make legal products.
The regulatory framework for a legal medicinal cannabis market was released today by the Ministry of Health for public feedback.
It follows the passing of a law last year to broaden the legality of cannabis for medicinal purposes, which also put in place a temporary legal defence for those using medicinal cannabis while the framework is being drawn up.
Currently, medicinal cannabis products are available on prescription with ministerial approval, but Sativex is the only approved product and it is considered prohibitively expensive, leading many to seek illegal products for relief.
The proposed framework aims to regulate the growing of cannabis for medicinal products, and the manufacture and supply of those products to ensure a standard of quality and a price that can compete with overseas markets.
It includes quality standards, compliance costs, and a recognition of the Treaty of
Waitangi principles to ensure equity of access, including to the economic benefits of the scheme.
Proposals for a regime include allowing cultivators to declare and use illicit cannabis seeds - without saying how they got them.
Health Minister David Clark says cultivators and manufacturers would need clear criminal records - but people with past convictions could still work for a medicinal cannabis company.
Clark says this needs to be a legitimate, high-quality, reliable industry that helps Kiwis in pain and has huge export potential.
"We are also not wanting to rule out people who have experience cultivated those products, so they can make a useful and credible contribution to society."
Clark says he hopes it could be an opportunity for people with cultivation experience who have been on the wrong side of the law.
“Legitimate taxes will be paid while they make a significant contribution to society.”
The Ministry of Health would set up a Medicinal Cannabis Agency to oversee the scheme, which would be in place by the first quarter of 2020.
Synthetic cannabinoids would not be included in the scheme, nor would edibles.
Smoking a product would not be supported, but vaping could be to allow for those who have difficulty swallowing. Other possible products include dried cannabis, oils, ointments or balms, tablets or capsules, and patches.
A licence - which would need to be renewed every year - would be needed to make or supply medicinal cannabis products, or grow cannabis for these purposes.
Those wanting a licence would be vetted by police and would be declined if they had any drug-related or dishonesty convictions, whether in New Zealand or overseas.
The Clean Slate law would apply, meaning a person would not have to disclose convictions more than seven years old.
Licenced growers who had access to illegal cannabis seed would be able to make a declaration, pay a fee up to $1500, and then use that seed.
"The cultivator will be required to report the amount of seed and supply any other known details but will not be required to disclose where or how the seed was acquired," the Ministry of Health document about the framework said.
This was not intended to allow illegal seed to be an ongoing source for a grower, it added.
"We expect that the number of declarations of illicit seed will be high initially and
decrease when a licit (legal) supply chain has been established for New Zealand
Licence fees for growing a large amount of cannabis would be $23,200, higher than the proposed $14,716 for making medicinal cannabis products.
The Medicinal Cannabis Agency would also be able to impose penalties for non-compliance, and order products to be seized and destroyed.
The proposal has two options for the manufacturing process: the Good Manufacturing Practice as outlined in the Medicines Act, or using this method as well as the Good Production Practices under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Health Minister David Clark urged the health sector, industry and the public to engage while public consultation is open for four weeks - until August 7.
"We are also looking for views on how these products are prescribed, the quality standards for medicinal cannabis products, licensing for cultivators and manufacturers, barriers to patients accessing these medicines and several other proposals."
The regulations supporting the scheme will be finalised by December 18 and it is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2020.