A human who is not Simon Bridges puts some weed in a test tube

Simon Bridges: Our medicinal cannabis bill is no stunt, but it is miles better

The National Party this week sprung a surprise by putting forward a rival bill on medicinal marijuana. Here leader of the opposition Simon Bridges explains their thinking

New Zealanders deserve greater access to high quality medicinal cannabis products to ease their pain and suffering, but we must have the right regulatory and legislative controls in place to make it work. That’s why National has proposed new legislation that would widen access to medicinal cannabis for those that really need it, and who medical professionals decide will benefit from it.

The government has its own bill to change how we treat medicinal cannabis. Unfortunately that bill is big on talk and rhetoric but it fails every test of good policy. As we see often with this government, they haven’t put the thought or hard work in behind it.

The government’s bill includes only minor improvements to how cannabidiol products are treated, which the previous National government had already facilitated.

The National Party supported the First Reading of the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill because, notwithstanding our concerns that the bill was not well worded, it supports the goal of creating a framework where terminally and chronically ill New Zealanders could access medicinal cannabis products for therapeutic use.

People have asked why we didn’t work with the government to try and improve their bill during the Select Committee process. The reality is that the National members of the Select Committee had no success in getting meaningful support from the government for the sensible changes we were hoping they would consider. Our concerns were mirrored by submitters who wanted more detail in the bill and to not just leave it to the officials. The government should have then charged their officials with going away and answering these very important questions and coming up with the improvements that we knew its bill needed. This wasn’t done.

The only thing we asked for upfront was that after the medicinal cannabis scheme had been designed, that the scheme be passed back through parliament so that all parties could offer further advice and scrutiny. We believe this is such an important social policy that parliamentary scrutiny and consultation is important. The government declined to allow this scrutiny and this wasn’t acceptable to National members so we proceeded on our own.

The government bill is also totally silent on how a medicinal cannabis regime would operate in practice. Even though parliament’s Health Committee couldn’t agree to back the idea the government wants to push ahead with its unworkable bill, with poorly drafted law, and farm out the hard policy work to unelected bureaucrats. It would also have increased access to loose leaf cannabis now and left it to officials to think through the controls and the consequences later. That’s typical of this government but it’s not acceptable.

National is determined to be a constructive opposition working on new ideas and new policies and we knew we could do better. That’s why over the last couple of months, we’ve put hard work into coming up with our alternative workable policy that draws on international best practice and sets out a comprehensive regime to manage medical cannabis use in a New Zealand context.

Our members’ bill would implement a comprehensive medicinal cannabis regime to widen access to medicinal cannabis and license high quality domestic production. We trust doctors and nurses and want to give them the best tools possible.

We are proposing a model where medicinal cannabis is treated just the same as any other medicine. Manufacturing would occur under strict licensing conditions with high quality standards just like any other medicine. It would be dispensed through pharmacies and available to certified users. It also has strict controls around locations for manufacture including keeping it away from schools and residential areas, ensures that the products aren’t marketed to the public and it does not allow personal cultivation or loose leaf dispensing.

Commentary on our bill includes that it is “vastly better-conceived than the government bill”. Ross Bell, executive director of the Drug Foundation, says the bill “provides the detail a lot of people wanted” and Medicinal Cannabis Awareness NZ says that “a significant amount of time, hundreds of hours, and international expertise is being pulled in to ‘do it once, do it right’”.

This is exactly what National has been working to achieve, a better bill that would result in a better framework and better outcomes – all created with a fraction of the resourcing that the government has at its disposal.

Good government matters and that starts with good policy. We encourage the government to pick up the enormous amount of work done by National in Opposition and implement our comprehensive reforms to ensure New Zealanders in need can access high quality medicinal cannabis products to ease their suffering. Its not too late for the government to pick up on our suggestions and we look forward to talking with the government parties to find a way forward.

Simon Bridges is the leader of the National Party


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