New Zealand health minister Andrew Little has said drug-checking services could be used to reduce harm to medicinal cannabis patients sourcing products from the illicit market with little knowledge of what’s in them.

Speaking as the Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Bill — which provides legal certainty for drug-checking services — passed its final reading in parliament yesterday, he said it was important to protect everyone who accesses substances through illicit channels.

New Zealand health minister Andrew Little

“I am determined that we have something that goes beyond music festivals and pop-up clinics,” he added.

He insisted he “wouldn’t want to get ahead of the cannabis debate and judgement that the electorate has already passed [in reference to last year’s referendum] on broader liberalisation of that substance”.

But he said the testing of medicinal cannabis sourced from the illicit market would be possible under the new regime, before noting the granting of a licence for that purpose would fall under the remit of the director-general of health. 

A study published in May which tested 100 so-called ‘green fairy’, or illegally sourced, samples found a wide range of cannabinoid concentrations, and incorrect claims about content.

Auckland businessman Grant Hoey has purchased a NZ$50,000 high-performance liquid chromatography instrument that can check for cannabinoids, and plans to apply for a drug-checking licence next year.

In August, he told the New Zealand Herald: “I can detect and quantify cannabinoids in medicines that are home made to let patients know what’s in them, and also what harmful substances there might be, including plant growth regulators, weed sprays and heavy metals.”

Hannah Adler

Hannah is a communications professional and early-career researcher in the disciplines of health communication and health sociology. She is a PhD student at Griffith University currently writing a...