By New Zealand Herald

People in chronic pain and the terminally ill will have to wait until at least mid-2020 to legally obtain medicinal cannabis, according to a Ministry of Health document – a wait criticised as far too long.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, introduced by Health Minister David Clark in December 2017 under the Government's 100-day plan, is expected to become law by March 2019.

A Health Ministry document, released under the Official Information Act to National's associate health spokesman Shane Reti, shows it is working to a timeline that assumes a "go-live date" in mid-2020.

"And this is just for the required regulations. It is highly unlikely that dispensing would begin at that point and it would almost certainly be much later. This is unacceptable," Reti said.

National supported the Government's bill at first reading but then pulled its support in July with its own bill in Reti's name. National said its bill set out a more comprehensive and well-researched regime for the use of medicinal cannabis.

"The Government needs to adopt National's bill which would make medicinal cannabis products available to New Zealanders who need them with an appropriate regime in place in a fraction of the time of their current plan."

Greens drug law reform spokeswoman Chloe Swarbrick, whose own medicinal cannabis bill was voted down in January, said her party would like to see the Government's bill go live much sooner than mid-2020.

Swarbrick said she had been speaking to Clark and Reti to get all parties working together.

"We think that it's important to ensure that we are getting the best possible outcomes for patients here. It's unfortunate that politics has obviously got in the way," she said.