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Is Marijuana Legal in New Zealand?

new zealand flag with marijuana nugget in front

In New Zealand, cannabis is medically legal but recreationally illegal. Medical marijuana patients must procure a prescription from their doctor and can only purchase cannabis medicine with a valid prescription.

However, New Zealand’s framework is very strict, and it’s challenging for many patients to access cannabis for medicinal use.

Medical users must operate in this framework to acquire medical cannabis products legally, but those violating New Zealand law can be fined up to $500 for possession of a small amount.

Medical Marijuana Laws in New Zealand

In 2018, New Zealand passed a law to legalize medical marijuana under the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill Act.

This legislation assigned the oversight of medical marijuana in New Zealand to the country’s Medical Cannabis Agency, which set regulations concerning how patients can access cannabis, what products are available, and what formulations are legal or illegal.

While the Misuse of Drugs Act Amendment legalized medicinal cannabis, New Zealand’s medical marijuana program has been criticized as among the strictest worldwide, making it very challenging for people to access effective medicine. Only recently, in 2021, the first New Zealand-made CBD medicines became available to patients.

Only a few cannabis-based medicines are government-approved; before 2021, they had to be imported overseas.

Cannabidiol (CBD) products that meet the legal definition of containing less than 2% of trace THC are the only products doctors can prescribe without government approval, except in rare medical cases. The government has also approved Sativex, but it must be ordered overseas.

According to the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations of 2006, industrial hemp is also allowed in New Zealand as long as it has less than 0.35% THC and is produced by a licensed producer.

Outside New Zealand’s restrictive laws, all cannabis products besides CBD and Sativex are considered Class B1 controlled substances. Only those with terminal illnesses or seeking to treat multiple sclerosis spasticity can receive treatment with these medicines.

The possession, cultivation, sale, production, or substance use of Class B illicit drugs — including marijuana — can be punished by increasingly harsh penalties.

Cultivation and trafficking charges can result in a lifetime prison sentence as a maximum penalty.

Unfortunately, New Zealanders’ future with cannabis legalization and cannabis law reform remains uncertain.

Voters did not pass a 2020 cannabis referendum determining whether to legalize its recreational use. And yet, in the same year as the 2020 referendum, a New Zealand study reported that 80% of survey participants favored medicinal use, and 26.8% supported recreational cannabis use.

What to Know About About Medical Cannabis in New Zealand

Medical Cannabis Is Legal in New Zealand

New Zealanders can access legal cannabis products by obtaining a prescription from their physician.

The doctor must specify the exact brand and type of product and the amount and for which condition they are prescribing the medicine. Of note, only patients with terminal illnesses or looking to treat MS spasticity can receive a prescription for THC-containing cannabis.

All other patients may only use CBD products or Sativex and can only acquire medicine with a prescription.

Patients may only receive a prescription for a three-month supply of cannabis at a time.

Only Certain Medical Marijuana Products Are Allowed

Only CBD products and Sativex are approved medicinal cannabis options available via prescription. Higher THC products may only be prescribed for patients with terminal illnesses or those seeking treatment for MS spasticity. Such products include:

The full list of available THC cannabis products that require special government permission can be found here. Patients can purchase vaporizers via import only if approved as medical devices.

Any medical cannabis intended to be smoked or cultivated for personal use is illegal.

Travelers Can Bring Some Medical Marijuana Into New Zealand

New Zealand law offers rules for traveling into the country with medical marijuana. Products from the United States are prohibited due to their status as Schedule I controlled drugs.

The import of cannabis medicines is allowed if the traveling patient declares them at New Zealand customs, confirming that the product:

  • Is medically required for them or a patient in their care
  • Has been lawfully obtained in their home country
  • Consists of no more than one month’s supply

Can You Grow Cannabis in New Zealand?

It is illegal for New Zealanders to cultivate cannabis for personal use, even if the person in question holds a prescription for medical marijuana.

The cultivation of cannabis can be punished by up to seven years imprisonment, while possessing cannabis seeds can yield up to one year of prison time and a $500 fine.

Cannabis can only be cultivated by licensed producers as approved by the Medical Cannabis Agency.

The Bottom Line

While medical marijuana legalization technically exists in New Zealand, the laws are very strict and allow access to higher concentrations of THC to very few patients. CBD is much more accessible but still requires a prescription to obtain.