New Zealand’s Government has passed a law – by 63 votes to 53 – that will “make medical marijuana widely available for thousands of patients over time”.
The legislation will allow terminally ill patients to begin smoking illegal pot immediately without facing the possibility of prosecution. However, patients suffering with chronic pain will have to wait a year until a new set of regulations, licensing rules and quality standards have been put in place.
“People nearing the end of their lives should not have to worry about being arrested or imprisoned for trying to manage their pain,” said David Clarke, health minister. “This is compassionate and caring legislation that will make a real difference to people … they can use illicit cannabis without fear of prosecution.”
The measures come ahead of a planned national referendum on recreational marijuana use in New Zealand. The Government has pledged to hold the referendum some time over the next two years, but has not yet set a date or finalised the wording.
Sandra Murray, campaign manager for the #MakeItLegal campaign, also known as the Cannabis Coalition Referendum, applauded the government for passing the legislation within their first year in office.
“New Zealanders will take this as encouragement that we don’t need to be stuck in the past,” she said. “We are now only two steps behind the rest of the world when it comes to sensible cannabis laws and with the upcoming referendum, we are on track to become an example of how to get it right.”
On Facebook the campaign group said the law change is “not as good as what patients need, but it’s better than the status quo. That patients have been able to fight this campaign while in some cases terminally ill, has been inspirational.”
The new law allows patients much broader access to medical marijuana, which was previously highly restricted and subject to approval by the health minister.
The law will also allow medical marijuana products to be manufactured in New Zealand for both domestic and overseas markets. The emerging industry is being touted as a potential boost for deprived Māori communities on the east coast of the North Island.
The reactionary opposition National party claimed the government had decriminalised cannabis “by stealth”, and slammed the move as “lazy and dangerous”.
“We support medicinal cannabis but strongly oppose the smoking of loose leaf cannabis in public. Smoked loose leaf is not a medicine,” claimed the Nationals’ spokesperson on health, Shane Reti.