After the introduction of the Medical Cannabis Scheme, confusion around prices in the New Zealand cannabis market is yet to be overcome.
And, while pharmacies are justifying the accuses of over-charging patients by pointing out the high expenses of medical cannabis products coming from abroad, the intricated problem with the supply-chain market and the grey area of legislation may seem not to shed light to the issue.
When Karen and Adam Jeffries saw the price on the box – $413 for a 25ml bottle of high- strength formulation Medleaf CBD oil – they got shocked.
In February this year, they had bought exactly the same product for $243 in order to cope with the health problems of their daughter Zoe who suffers from cerebral palsy. And now they found themselves having to pay almost twice as much.
When she asked for an explanation to the pharmacy owner, she was said that the label was placed on the box in error as it was generated using the pharmacy's standard software, but staff had actually discounted the price down to $300.
The pharmacist added that being a new product, there is still confusion around prices in New Zealand.
While, when trying to justify the high price, he replaced that, being an unapproved medicine, additional costs such as procurement fees must be covered by the pharmacy somehow.
Many are wondering whether the fact that this drug is still considered an unapproved product under "section 29" of the Medicines Act may be amongst the main causes of this climate of confusion.
Indeed, being unable to market CBD products as a drug used to
assess specific illness and chronic pains, transparency of price in this market is becoming a big issue for patients and, at the same time, a good opportunity for pharmacies that can inflate their prices without incurring in any legal issue.
In order to address these problems, the 21 st April 2020, the New Zealand government introduced the Medical Cannabis Scheme which enables the commercial cultivation and/or manufacturing and supply of the medicinal cannabis products to those industries able to acquire all required certifications.
This will not only help decrease the price since more CBD products will be produced locally, but it will also allow establishing a system of control throughout the entire supply chain. According to the Medical Cannabis Scheme, indeed, companies intended to enter this market, must apply to the Medicinal Cannabis Agency to become licenced to cultivate, process or possess medical cannabis.
Firstly, they must be Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified and hold a Licence to Manufacture Medicine from the Ministry of Health. Secondly, they need to go through a drug development process, which involves equipment and process validation of data to determine a product's shelf life. Finally, they can apply to the Medical Cannabis Agency to assess whether the product meets the medical cannabis minimum quality standards.
This will undoubtedly augment the number of medical cannabis produced and sold locally and so diminish the price for these drugs due to a consequential increase in competition.
But, at the same time, the whole process may take up to 12 months.
And this can become a serious issue for many families who, like Karen and Adam, really need to rely on these drugs to improve their daughter's life.
Lack of supply in Medicinal Cannabis products can cause confusion and control over the price of the end product, and this directly affects patients that required the medicine and have no other options apart from paying the established price.
Until national companies in New Zealand don't reach the standards for Medicinal Cannabis commercialization, Kiwi patients might be affected by companies control over price and supply.
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