The proposed regulations and standards for medicinal cannabis was yesterday made public for a brief period for consultation in a "small step forward" toward legalisation, former associate minister of health Peter Dunne said.
"We're expecting final regulations to be passed by December, that’s what the Government said – they originally said it would be July this year, and that cumulative delay, I think, is causing a lot of uncertainty," he said on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning. "Not that things aren’t going to happen, but just what the final shape of the regime will be."
The lengthy document up for public consultation, he explained, discusses "what the manufacturing regime should look like; personal access issues; whether the drug should be pharmaceutical standard or not; who can prescribe all of those sorts of things, so it’s a comprehensive piece of work."
"I guess, the one criticism would be, I would have thought, this far down the track, the Government could have had some answers to those questions, rather than saying, 'We're going out to consult with the public about what it should look like,' because the demand is certainly there from people for these products.
"What they expect is access and the development of a manufacturing industry to perceive relatively quickly, but I don't think there's any sign of that at this stage."
Mr Dunne, the advisory board chairman for medicinal cannabis company Setek Therapeutics, said educating doctors about the benefits of prescribing the medicinal drug to patients will be "probably the biggest question."
"It's all very well to have a regime that says 'you can access these products and here's what they should look like' and who's going to manufacture them and how we're going to obtain them, etc. if, at the end of the day, doctors are going to say, 'That's all very well but I'm not interested in prescribing them.'
"I know when I was minister, we tried very much to get the medical profession on side and I must say, it was an uphill battle in terms of interest. Most of them just didn’t want to know about these products and at the end of the day, they’re going to be the ones in the key positions."
He said some doctors don't want to know about the benefits of medicinal cannabis "for a variety of reasons."
"Some just find it all too difficult, some are prejudiced against it – the number of times I heard doctors say, 'I don't want to be known as Doctor Dope', all those sorts of things – but that's got to change, and I think that part of this whole strategy is got to be to involve them, to get them on side so that when products are available, they can be prescribed usefully to patients."
Mr Dunne said the Government's focus on manufacturers of medicinal cannabis is both helping and hindering the business.
"Slowly but surely, we're getting some clarity about what things are going to look like," he said. "But the problem is it's taking such a long time. As I say, manufacturers in the industry were under the impression things were going to be finalised by about this time, now we're told regulations won't be finalised until December, and everything's going to be up and functioning by this time next year.
"Well, I'm sorry – those lead times are far too short. There will not be New Zealand-based products available by the middle of next year, simply because manufacturing processes, approval processes, testing processes take so much longer.
"I think that's the frustration. This is taking much longer than the Government originally promised."
National called it an “outrageous misuse of the policy process,” which Mr Dunne said was “going a wee bit far.”
"They do make a valid point, though, in terms of the fact that a lot of the detail that we’re now discussing should have been up for public consultation a year or so ago, but I wouldn’t call it an outrageous abuse of the public process – I think that's going way too far."