Only a small minority of New Zealanders using medicinal cannabis are accessing it through legal channels according to a new study by the NZ Drug Foundation.
The analysis, based on Official Information Act requests and patient estimates calculated from the NZ Health Survey, shows that while an estimated 266,700 New Zealanders used cannabis for medicinal purposes, only 6% – around 17,000 – did so using a prescription under the country’s medicinal cannabis regime in 2020.
The analysis is part of the NZ Drug Foundation’s 2022 State of the Nation report released this week.
NZ Drug Foundation policy director Kali Mercier said the findings show that while the amount of people accessing cannabis legally has grown under the new regime, first introduced on April 1 2020, there are still significant barriers.
“Unfortunately, the current medicinal cannabis regime is simply inaccessible for many people,” she said. “It is hard to get a prescription because many doctors won’t prescribe or aren’t sure how to prescribe the products. And price is another huge barrier. The drugs aren’t funded, so CBD oil can cost a patient NZ$150-350 per month, with other products costing even more.”
The findings suggest CBD-only products are easier to source legally than those containing THC, “even though some medical conditions respond better to products containing that compound”.
Mercier said strict quality control standards mean there is a limited number of products on the market, keeping prices high.
“Patients suffering some really debilitating conditions continue to use illegally sourced products and live in fear of the law, and often their plants and medicines are destroyed by police enforcing the law.”
She said the solution lies not just in improving the price and accessibility of prescription products, but in decriminalisation.
“Unless medicinal cannabis products start to be funded by the Pharmaceutical Management Agency and doctors become more comfortable prescribing it, tens of thousands of people will continue to turn to the black market. And even then, many people will continue to distrust the health system.”
“We should not be criminalising any of them,” Mercier added.
At last week’s MedCan Summit 2022, New Zealand health minister Andrew Little reiterated the government’s commitment to the country’s new Medicinal Cannabis Scheme and insisted “supply and demand economics” would see prices come down as more products come to market.