The new Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is being undermined with a significant volume of unregulated imports of unknown quality and consistency readily available, according to industry representatives.
Some medical practitioners are importing products containing cannabis, including gummy bears, and selling directly to patients using a legal loophole in Section 25 of the Medicines Act. Other sellers are ignoring the law and selling unapproved cannabis products online without prescription.
Licensed medicinal cannabis producers and distributors, working within the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme rules, say they will not be able to compete on price with these unregulated products of unknown origin and quality.
Manu Caddie, Chair of the NZMCC, the industry association representing around 30 licensed companies says:
“The Ministry of Health doesn’t seem to be able to do much about doctors circumventing the Scheme. Unlicensed sellers of other cannabis products are really a matter for the Police; but they probably regard it as a low priority compared to more serious crime”.
“There are solutions for the Government. For instance, descheduling, or regulating lower dose CBD via long overdue Natural Health Products legislation will increase access and lower prices. The Ministry would also greatly improve oversight and better protect patients.”
New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis law was intended to increase patient access and lower costs. From the outset, the major concern of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council (NZMCC) was the inability of the new regulations to address issues of affordability. Under the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, the compliance requirements and subsequent costs for pharmaceutical-grade GMP manufacturing are very high.
For beneficiaries and others on limited incomes there could be a solution, says Mr Caddie.
“Pharmac does not fund medicinal cannabis products and they are very expensive. For vulnerable patients who require higher dose medicinal cannabis products, where the medicine is legally prescribed, ACC or WINZ could automatically approve funding”.
“At present both agencies have an ad-hoc approach to subsidising medicinal cannabis products and only a few lucky patients are fully funded. This is an unfair system. If a medical expert believes a medicinal cannabis product is the best option for a patient that is otherwise eligible for support from ACC or WINZ, then they should not be subject to a second and third opinion by others looking for ways not to fund the best option available?”
“Data we obtained under the Official Information Act this week reveals that only four claims for an ACC subsidy on prescriptions for medicinal cannabis have been successful since the new scheme came in last year and ACC admits that the majority of successful claims in the last five years have had to go through an appeal and independent review process which involves patients going to court just to get their prescription covered by ACC!”
The industry believes the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme was never intended to drive towards an obscure branch of medicine with very few GPs confident to prescribe and a few doctors selling unknown and unregulated CBD in their dispensaries.
“At present there is less regulator oversight of s25 imports than vitamins at the supermarket. And prices are still beyond most people’s reach.” says Mr Caddie.