Rule changes make little difference to cannabis group
Wednesday’s announcement that the health minister will no longer need to sign off on applications for medicinal cannabis is nothing more than a small administrative change, according to an advocacy group.
The change means final approval of applications for all medicinal cannabis and cannabis-based medicines now lies with the Ministry of Health rather than the minister.
The National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, says the change will make little difference as it is the ministry itself making cannabis and cannabis-based drugs hard to obtain.
“Getting Peter Dunne to sign the applications has not been the problem, the problem is the Ministry of Health making up unreasonable rules and doing everything they can to deny access to patients,” says NORML President Chris Fowlie.
The Ministry of Health’s director of Protection, Regulation, and Assurance Dr Stewart Jessamine denies the process is unreasonable.
“The Ministry already works with applicants to ensure that requests for cannabis-based products are processed as quickly as possible,” he says.
He points to applications for the cannabis-based drug Sativex, which is only approved to treat multiple sclerosis.
“In the case of Sativex, there have been 163 successful applications lodged with the ministry since 2008, with only six applications declined during the same period.”
But Chris Fowlie says it is still unreasonable to require ministry approval when other controlled substances can be prescribed by a doctor.
“They make it tougher than everything else, it is not treated the same as amphetamines, cocaine, or opioids, all of which can be readily prescribed by doctors.”
Amphetamines are used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, while cocaine is used in topical anaesthetics, and opioids like morphine are commonly used for pain relief.
NORML also disagrees with the ministry treating cannabidiol, or CBD, as a controlled substance.
They are currently assisting a High Court case brought against the ministry over the matter.
CBD is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis and hemp and is not mentioned in the Misuse of Drugs Act while the main psychoactive component of cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is.
CBD is used for pain relief and generally harvested from hemp, which does not contain THC.