IMPORTANT UPDATE 9 December 2016: The Ministry of Health and NZ Customs are trying to deny safe legal access to US medicinal cannabis.
The government agencies are now saying botanical cannabis or cannabis-based products from the US cannot be legally brought into New Zealand under the Section 8 exemption, as there are not any cannabis medicines currently approved by the FDA.
- Documents leaked to NORML show this is based on advice they requested in September 2016 from the US DEA, in response to Rebecca Reider bringing medicinal cannabis from Hawaii into New Zealand.
- The issue is whether the medicinal cannabis is “lawfully supplied”. We believe that if patients or caregivers comply with state law, then it is lawfully supplied. There are many products that are not “FDA approved”. That doesn’t make them illegal.
- For example Sativex, the only cannabis-based product that is lawfully supplied in NZ, is not FDA approved. The New Zealand government has also allowed several applications to use other non-FDA approved botanical cannabis products, including Epidiolex, Aceso and Tilray.
- Regardless of their new interpretation, the law has not changed and the s8 legal exemption remains, so patients could still enter New Zealand with non-botanical cannabis meds (eg Marinol) sourced from the US, or botanical cannabis lawfully supplied in other places such as Canada, Uruguay or Europe. Or, be prepared to prove your US medicinal cannabis is “lawfully supplied”.
- Together with other reform advocates, NORML is considering legal action.
For more information see:
- NZ Ministry of Health: Bringing medicines into New Zealand
- NZ Herald: Ministry of Health advice thwarts Cannabis Party’s plans to import medical cannabis products
- RadioNZ: US man deported after arriving with medicinal cannabis
- Hard News: More medical cannabis misadventure with the Ministry of Health (actually, probably with Crown Law)
By Rebecca Reider
Before bringing my meds from Hawaii to NZ recently, I did a lot of research on how to do it legally. Please SHARE this info with anyone who may benefit (and don’t believe everything you see on TV!)
This is an initial list of key points in response to the massive influx of questions I’ve been getting. I hope to work with others to get it formalised into a more official FAQ type thing on some website somewhere soon.
GETTING IT –
It is illegal to post or ship medicinal cannabis to yourself from overseas. To be legal, you or your caregiver must travel overseas and bring it into NZ on your person.
• Anyone, regardless of citizenship or residency status, can get a medical marijuana card in Hawaii.
• To get the card, you need to have a consultation with a Hawaii doctor who is licensed to prescribe marijuana.
• The doctor I used was Dr. David Barton. I highly recommend him as he has a lot of experience with cannabis as medicine.
• You fill out an online form on the Hawaii Dept of Health (DOH) website and then the doctor fills out the rest once they have assessed you.
• Be aware it can take the DOH up to a month to process your card.
• A designated “primary caregiver” can grow or possess marijuana on behalf of a patient. So in theory, a very sick patient in NZ could have their caregiver travel to Hawaii on behalf.
• Currently (as of Aug 2016), Hawaiian medicinal marijuana patients are licensed to grow their own marijuana, or can designate someone to grow it for them. This makes it a bit trickier for non-Hawaii residents to obtain medicine… mine was a gift from a fellow patient.
• Hawaii’s state-licensed marijuana dispensaries (where any patient will be able to buy medicine) were supposed to open earlier this year. It sounds like there is some bureaucratic red tape holding things up. DOH told me they hope the dispensaries will be open by the end of this year. That will make things much more straightforward for non-Hawaii residents.
California is arguably the simplest place for NZ patients to get cannabis right now, until Hawaii’s dispensaries are up and running. There are many commercial dispensaries selling a huge variety of buds and cannabis products. Once a California doctor writes you a marijuana recommendation, you just need to show it to any dispensary and you can purchase.
Legally speaking, you don’t have to be a California resident in order to access Californian medical marijuana, according to NORML. However, many doctors and dispensaries will only serve California residents, so do your research before you go.
Like Hawaii, California allows a designated caregiver to possess cannabis on behalf of the patient.
More detail on California legalities here.
LEAVING THE U.S.
Cannabis is still illegal at the federal level in the U.S., even though it’s legal in many states, which makes it technically illegal to board a plane with it. However, TSA use their discretion to let patients travel with medicine in some places, and to be honest, they are looking for bombs, not marijuana, so it’s not hard to get on a plane with it. California is the easiest place to openly take your medicine onto a plane, apparently.
According to a recent court ruling, the U.S. federal government is not supposed to prosecute state-authorized marijuana patients any more, which is promising for anyone worried about this aspect of the journey.
ENTERING NEW ZEALAND
All of the info in this section is documented in Official Information Act responses that my attorney Sue Grey and I received from various NZ government officials.
• You (the patient or caregiver) must declare your cannabis at Customs.
• Customs says that officers have personal discretion and must be “satisfied” that you are following the law – so you should NOT expect to just breeze through after claiming you have medical cannabis.
•You need to have documentation of your medical marijuana prescription/referral.
• You also need to have convincing documentation (i.e. a letter from your doctor) as to what constitutes a ‘one-month supply’ of cannabis for you. You can only bring a one-month supply into NZ. Customs have indicated that if you lack this documentation, they may hold onto your medicines until you can prove it’s only a one-month supply.
• Every patient’s one-month supply is different, depending on their mode of usage and their condition. So, if you can get a doctor to write that your one-month supply is 8 ounces of bud (which is the legal possession limit in California), you could in theory bring that much into NZ. In Hawaii the possession limit is 4 ounces of “usable marijuana.”
• NZ MPI says that from a biosecurity standpoint, yes, you can bring dried cannabis plant material (i.e. buds) into NZ. As with other dried plants, they may choose to inspect it to make sure it is free of pests, seeds and contaminants… so make sure those things aren’t in it if you want to avoid your meds being fumigated.
• This Customs website gives a bit more info; click onto the “controlled drug” section.
THE NZ LAW
The beautiful legal clause that makes this pathway possible is the Misuse of Drugs Act, s8(2)(l)(iii). The relevant text is:
a person may, while entering or leaving New Zealand, possess a controlled drug required for treating the medical condition of the person or any other person in his or her care or control, if the quantity of drug is no greater than that required for treating the medical condition for 1 month, and the drug was—
lawfully supplied to the person by a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, optometrist, midwife, designated prescriber (as defined in section 2(1) of the Medicines Act 1981), or dentist in New Zealand; or
prescribed by a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, optometrist, midwife, designated prescriber (as defined in section 2(1) of the Medicines Act 1981), or dentist, and lawfully supplied to the person in New Zealand; or
lawfully supplied to the person overseas and supplied for the purpose of treating a medical condition.
May all in need of healing have their medicine! And may this longwinded advice be rendered obsolete by total legalisation of our medicine in New Zealand as soon as possible! If I’ve left anything unanswered, please let me know in the comments.