Today it is expected that Dr Shane Reti’s private member’s bill, introduced in 2018 will go for its first reading. Dr Reti, now deputy leader of the opposition and a GP himself drafted the bill when it became clear that the Govt bill was lacking in vision.

His Bill had strengths and weaknesses, with an over-emphasis on fit and proper person tests around who could hold licenses, as befitting a conservative political party. Of concern though, is some restrictions would effectively “cancel” facilities already up and running if they are too close to residential areas for example.

One interesting feature was encouraging more affordable research to be undertaken in NZ, with Provisional consent processes emphasized, allowing for phase 2 clinical trials to provide benefits to businesses in the NZ Context, allowing for greater confidence in prescriber and patients that the products will actually work.

The best aspect of the bill, however, was recognizing GPs don’t want to be prescribing relatively unknown products, and creating a system where patients can qualify irrespective of their GPs personal views. This system would entail qualifying patients getting access via pharmacies, bypassing 1 of the 2 main barriers, prescriber hesitancy.

The other main barrier, cost, wasn’t addressed directly, but in a future bill dealing with cannabis in the pharmacy, economies of scale and costs for GMP (pharma grade) products could be addressed, this could be in a resurrected Natural Health Products Bill, or NHP for short. Under such a bill, CBD could remain as a medicine at higher doses, like those needed to treat epilepsy, while being made available at lower doses in a pharmacy, or even supermarkets and health food shops for those wishing to trial CBD for conditions as wide-ranging as Anxiety or Arthritis. Once Kiwis are free to get CBD over the counter, we can expect demand, competition, and economies of scale to open up opportunities for more affordable CBD across the board for all Kiwis.

We expect Dr Reti’s bill to be shot down by the Govt this evening, as they have an overwhelming majority, and don’t wish to acknowledge that their scheme hasn’t delivered for patients (yet). But reviewing the pros and cons of his bill, a key takeaway to drive forward is getting medical cannabis, where possible, out of the hands of hesitant prescribers and directly into the hands of patients will be essential to a working scheme.

To hear Dr Reti speak on His Medical Cannabis Bill, and decriminalization in general, listen to this Radio NZ Interview.