Guidance on the statutory defence and exemption provisions

Guidance for medical practitioners and nurse practitioners on implementing the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act 2017: exemption and statutory defence for patients requiring palliation.

What you need to know about the Act

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act came into effect on 18 December 2018. 

The Act provides an exemption and a statutory defence for people who require palliation to possess and use illicit cannabis, or a cannabis utensil. In the Act –

‘a person requires palliation if, in the opinion of a medical practitioner or a nurse practitioner, the person has an advanced progressive life-limiting condition and is nearing the end of their life.’

What does the exemption and statutory defence mean?

A person with evidence from a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner that they require palliation would not be committing an offence if they possess or use illicit cannabis or a cannabis utensil.

People who do not have evidence at the time of questioning about possession and use of illicit cannabis, but can produce evidence from a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner that they require palliation in Court, will have a defence against conviction.

How to certify a person requires palliation

A medical practitioner or nurse practitioner can certify that a person requires palliation (as defined in the Act). The certification is a written statement that in the medicinal or nurse practitioners’ clinical opinion, the patient meets the definition of palliation in the Act. The certification is not an endorsement of the use of illicit cannabis.

There is no prescribed template for certification in the Act. The documentation could be in the form of a letter and needs to contain:

  • the patient’s name and address
  • the practitioner’s name, address and Medical Council/Nursing Council number
  • the date that the patient was seen
  • a statement that s/he requires palliation as defined by the Act.

While the Act does not specify a requirement to renew certification, the Ministry recommends patients’ certification are renewed after 12 months.

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