New Zealand’s parliament has passed an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 that will allow terminally ill patients to possess and use cannabis.

Previously, marijuana could only be used in a medical capacity with the approval of the Health Minister.

The amendment will also create a regulatory body to oversee locally manufactured medical cannabis products for the national and international market and will mean cannabidiol products to no longer be classed as controlled drugs.

The related regulations, licensing rules and quality standards are expected to take a year to be established and implemented, so the amendment creates a legal defence for terminally ill patients to start smoking cannabis immediately.

The Member of Parliament responsible for the amendment minister of Health David Clarke said: “People nearing the end of their lives should not have to worry about being arrested or imprisoned for trying to manage their pain.

“This is compassionate and caring legislation that will make a real difference to people … they can use illicit cannabis without fear of prosecution.”

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However, the amendment has been criticised by the opposition. The Associated Press reported that the opposition’s health spokesman Dr Shane Reti called the law ‘lazy and dangerous’ as it did not specify the future plans and allowed the public smoking of cannabis

He said: “We support medicinal cannabis but strongly oppose the smoking of loose-leaf cannabis in public. Smoked loose-leaf is not a medicine.”

The amendment has now been sent to the Queen for Royal Assent. It comes before a national referendum on recreational marijuana, which the Labour-Green coalition government promised would occur in the next two years.

Earlier this year, the UK changed the law to allow expert doctors in the UK to legally prescribe cannabis-based medicines for patients without requiring approval from an expert panel for access.