Australia’s government has announced it will seek parliamentary support for a licensing scheme permitting the local cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific applications.
However, the current legal status of medical cannabis in Australia has put it beyond the reach of many patients who could benefit from its use.
Currently there is only one pharmaceutical registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods containing cannabinoid ingredients – an oral mucosal spray used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis patients.
While medicinal cannabis products can be imported from overseas under certain conditions stipulated in Therapeutic Goods Act 1989; demand is high making supply unreliable and the cost can be prohibitive – two major and often insurmountable challenges for those suffering from conditions medical marijuana can treat.
Rules are already in place in Australia that allow for the manufacture of cannabis products for clinical trials and specific patients; but the proposed changes would enable locally-grown cannabis to be used.
“The Commonwealth licensing scheme for cultivation, will ensure there is a safe, legal and sustainable domestic supply of medicinal cannabis raw material available for manufacture into finished products,” states a government fact sheet (PDF).
Minister for Health Sussan Ley said the Government was currently finalising draft amendments to the Narcotics Drugs Act 1967 to allow local cannabis farming to develop under tight licensing conditions. These amendments are crucial as without them it would put Australia in breach of international obligations under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961.
“This Government is incredibly sympathetic to the suffering of those Australians with debilitating illnesses and we want to enable access to the most effective medical treatments available,” said Minister Ley.
“Allowing the cultivation of legal medicinal cannabis crops in Australia under strict controls strikes the right balance between patient access, community protection and our international obligations.”
Minister Ley made it clear the Government has no plans to change the status of cannabis as an illegal drug in Australia for recreational use.
As for garnering the necessary support the Government will require; early indicators are optimistic. The Federal Opposition has said it would also legalise medicinal marijuana and Greens leader Richard Di Natale has cautiously welcomed the plan.
While the Government will leave it to the states to decide if they wish to allow cultivation; both the ALP and the Greens want a nationwide scheme to ensure the maximum value – for both industry and end-consumers – can be gained from legislative changes.