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Medicinal Cannabis will remain inaccessible without subsidies or changes to regulations

Chairperson Manu Caddie said the NZ Medical Cannabis Council is pleased the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recognises that medicinal cannabis products in New Zealand are too expensive and still inaccessible for most patients.

“While commercial licenses have only been issued in the past few months, the reality is that growing a plant for pharmaceuticals will always be an expensive process and that means products will be more expensive than synthetic alternatives.”

“The industry supports the Good Manufacturing Standard requirement in the regulations but this will mean New Zealand made products are always going to be expensive. We can import cheaper products from places like South America and South Africa but they can have other issues that are likely to reduce prescriber and patient trust in the quality.” 

“An alternative is requiring any cannabinoid ingredients to meet GMP rather than the whole manufacturing process. Australia uses this approach and it is driving costs down, so that could be worth looking at if the government wants to reduce product costs.” 

Mr Caddie has visited medicinal cannabis producers in South America, Asia, Europe and North Ameria – he is confident New Zealand made the right decision with setting GMP as the quality standard for products made and prescribed here. 

“Places like Germany have the vast majority of cannabis prescriptions fully subsidised by statutory health insurers. In New Zealand we have Pharmac, ACC and WINZ that could subsidise the cost to bring it down for the majority of patients who simply cannot afford hundreds of dollars a month, or in some cases every couple of weeks, to pay for medicinal cannabis. Pharmac usually only looks at a product if it is registered, which requires substantial clinical evidence costing millions over many years. ACC and WINZ have covered a only a handful of prescriptions for clients that meet their strict criteria and have been sporadic in the eligibility for individual patients.”

“None of these options seem like a sustainable solution. While providing a special subsidy for medicinal cannabis products could be controversial, the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme has already established these medicines as a special category, so it does not need to undermine the Pharmac system if medicinal cannabis is treated differently to other medicines, particularly now the referendum has prevented full legalisation that could have helped thousands of patients who cannot afford pharmaceutical grade cannabis products.”  

The NZ Medical Cannabis Council is the industry association with over 30 companies involved in different parts of the rapidly developing sector.

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