Information about the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act which came into effect in December 2018.
- 18 December 2019: The Bill became an Act.
- 17 December 2019: The amended Bill received royal assent.
- 11 December 2019: The Bill (amended by the Supplementary Order Paper) was read for the third and last time.
- 7 March 2019: The Synthetic Drugs Response Regulatory Impact Statement has been published.
- 4 December 2018: The Government tabled a Supplementary Order Paper to amend the Bill at the Committee of the whole House stage.
- 29 November 2018: The Bill was read (unchanged) for the second time.
- 25 July 2018: The Health Committee reported back to the House, having received 1786 written submissions and heard 158 oral submissions. The Committee was unable to reach agreement and therefore could not recommend that the Bill proceed.
- 30 January 2018: The Bill was read for the first time and referred to the Health Committee.
- 20 December 2017: The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill was tabled in Parliament – Read the Health Minister's media release – Medicinal cannabis to ease suffering (Beehive website).
On this page
- Aim of the Amendment Act
- Summary of changes
- Compassionate measures for those requiring palliation
- Excluding some cannabinoids from control under the Act
- Travelling with medicinal cannabis products
The Act means:
- those requiring palliation have an exception and statutory defence to the charge of possession or use of illicit cannabis
- quality standards will be able to be set for medicinal cannabis products and all stages of production
- that the only cannabis compounds that are controlled drugs are tetrahydrocannabinols and related psychoactive substances. Cannabidiol and any substances related to tetrahydrocannabinols that are not psychoactive are not controlled drugs.
The Act is intended to improve access to medicinal cannabis based on principles of fairness, quality and safety, and compassion.
The intent of the Act is to improve access to medicinal cannabis products made to a quality standard.
From 18 December 2018 the following changes are in effect:
- individuals who require palliation have an exception and statutory defense for possessing and using cannabis
- cannabidiol is no longer a controlled drug.
The Minister of Health must recommend the making of regulations setting quality standards for medicinal cannabis products within a year of the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act 2018 coming into effect. These regulations will be a key element in the establishment of the Government’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme. The objective of the Scheme is to improve access to quality medicinal cannabis products.
- Find out more about the current process: Summary of Approvals Required to Prescribe Cannabis Based Products (PDF, 92.58 KB)
The Act provides people who require palliation an exception and a statutory defence to the charge of possessing or using illicit cannabis, or a cannabis utensil.
This is a compassionate measure while the Government establishes the medicinal cannabis scheme. The objective of the scheme is to increase patient access to quality medicinal cannabis products on prescription.
Illicit cannabis means any cannabis product not prescribed by a doctor. This can be in a range of forms such as dried leaf material, oils and balms.
Palliation is an approach which aims to alleviate pain and suffering for a person with an advanced progressive life limiting condition, who is nearing the end of their life. The Government considers this a better description of the group of patients the compassionate provisions were designed for than the term ‘terminal illness’ which was originally used. Approximately 25,000 New Zealanders could benefit from palliative care. We expect this group of patients would be covered by the provision but it is not known how many would choose to use illicit cannabis.
The provisions mean patients who have been diagnosed by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner as requiring palliation can possess and use illicit cannabis and cannabis utensils. Patients will need to hold evidence from a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner that states they have been diagnosed as requiring palliation to avoid prosecution or provide similar evidence to defend any charges in court.
A written statement from a medical or nurse practitioner that a patient requires palliation as defined in the Act (and above) needs to include sufficient information to identify the patient, the practitioner and their registration details, and the date the patient was seen (statements should be renewed after a year). It is not a prescription.
The exception and statutory defence is a compassionate approach acknowledging some people requiring palliation are currently choosing to use illicit cannabis to relieve their symptoms. It means that they will not receive a criminal conviction if they have been diagnosed as requiring palliation by a medical or nurse practitioner.
See Guidance for medicinal practitioners on the statutory defence and exemption provisions for more information.
The only cannabis compounds that are now controlled drugs are tetrahydrocannabinols and related psychoactive substances. Cannabidiol and any substances related to tetrahydrocannabinols that are not psychoactive are not controlled drugs.
Cannabinoids are a family of substances that have similar structures. Tetrahydrocannabinols (THCs) are a family of largely psychoactive substances that share similar structures and are a subset of the cannabinoid family. The main psychoactive component of cannabis is a THC.
The Act clarifies that while all THCs are controlled under the Act, substances that are related to THCs will only be controlled under the Act if they are capable of inducing more than a minor psychoactive effect, by any means. The words ‘is capable of inducing more than a minor psychoactive effect, by any means’ includes a chemical that can be altered by a simple conversion technique (such as heating) to produce a chemical that has a more than a minor psychoactive effect. This would include tetrahydrocannabinolic acids, which can be converted to tetrahydrocannabinols themselves by a simple conversion technique (eg, THCA converts to THC with heating).
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a substance found in cannabis with potential therapeutic value and little or no psychoactive properties. The Act reflects the advice of the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs by descheduling CBD as a controlled drug, making it a prescription medicine only.
The Act means the amount of cannabinoids in CBD products will only be restricted if they are THCs or psychoactive related substances. This will make CBD products easier to manufacture and while minimising risks to individuals from the psychoactive components of cannabis and minimising the risk of diversion and abuse.
- Individuals are able to get CBD products on prescription from a doctor without needing permission from the Ministry of Health. Read more about CBD products.
No individual may leave or enter New Zealand with illicit cannabis, even if they have been diagnosed by a medical or nurse practitioner as requiring palliation. You can travel with 1 months’ supply of medicinal cannabis products that are controlled drugs (eg, Sativex) or 3 months’ supply of medicines that are not controlled drugs (eg, CBD products) provided you are able to show they have been lawfully supplied to you. It is your responsibility to familiarise yourself with, and comply with, the requirements of the country you are travelling to.
For further information on bringing controlled drugs (eg, high THC products) into New Zealand read the Bringing medicines into New Zealand section.
For further information on bringing medicines (eg, CBD products) into New Zealand, refer to Medsafe’s website: