New Zealand is the latest country to legalize medicinal cannabis after a draft bill passed a third reading at the House of Representatives.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill was introduced in December 2017 and it has now overcome all the necessary obstacles. Once it gains Royal Assent, which is a formality, it will be enshrined in law and thousands of patients across New Zealand will gain legal access to marijuana.

Coalition government partners the Labour Party, NZ First, and the Greens voted in favour of the bill, although the opposition National Party opposed it, accusing the government of decriminalizing cannabis by stealth in a “lazy and dangerous” move. Yet Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, a long-term marijuana advocate, was delighted by the result.

The proposed law initially sought to permit medicinal cannabis only for terminally ill people with less than a year to live. But at last month’s second reading, Health Minister David Clark made an amendment that expanded the law and it now covers all people that need palliative pain relief.

The bill contains a requirement that a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is launched no later than one year after the law comes into effect. That should allay concerns held by some campaigners that this process would be dragged out for years before New Zealanders could gain access to medicinal cannabis.

The decision also means that terminally ill patients can start consuming cannabis without fear of reprisals immediately, as the government will no longer prosecute them.

It also paves the way for New Zealand firms to begin cultivating medicinal cannabis flower and producing derivatives for domestic use and for exports. There is a flourishing illicit cannabis industry among the Maori communities on New Zealand’s North Island and this could soon become a strong legal trade. Illicit growers are now encouraged to come forward with unique strains to provide New Zealand with flagship cannabis brands to call its own.

The country has promised a referendum on whether to permit recreational cannabis use within the next two years. Campaign group Make It Legal said the news about medicinal cannabis has given New Zealanders encouragement that they “don’t need to be stuck in the past”.

“We are now only two steps behind the rest of the world when it comes to sensible cannabis laws and with the upcoming referendum, we are on track to become an example of how to get it right,” said campaign manager Sandra Murray in a statement.

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