The Australian Federal Government has announced it will facilitate faster access to medical cannabis to qualifying patients.
After mounting pressure from cannabis campaigners, and perhaps with the help of a bit of a nudge from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia will have a store of imported medicinal cannabis products within 8 weeks – and possibly sooner.
Up until now, anyone who has been authorised to use medical cannabis has needed to source it from overseas; creating additional layers of complexity, cost and delays.
“We have listened to the concerns of patients and their families that are having difficulty accessing the product on prescription whilst domestic production becomes available,” said the Minister.
“We are now making it easier to access medicinal cannabis products more rapidly, while still maintaining strict safeguards for individual and community safety.”
It should be noted that “easier” does not mean easy. Patients still will need to have been prescribed medicinal cannabis by a suitably authorised doctor before being able to source medicines from within Australia. These doctors, of which there are currently few, need to apply to become “authorised prescribers” and those who do have authorisation are not able to advertise the fact.
However, for those already with prescriptions and permission, securing supply should be simpler within the next couple of months – in theory. Michael Oakley, father of Stiff Person Syndrome sufferer Ben Oakley, says several tonnes of cannabis medicines will need to be imported to meet demand.
Prominent campaigner Lucy Haslam also has reservations about what she describes as being long overdue changes.
Supply of products will remain a tightly-controlled process said the Minister, with various strict conditions placed on importers and suppliers in relation to the types of products imported, handling, secure storage and accounting for the medicines.
The importer will also be subject to audits by the Department with respect to quality of the products imported. Any unused products will need to be destroyed 12 months after import.
Further details regarding the arrangements can be viewed on the Office Of Drug Control web site.
A decision has also been made to ban the export of domestically grown cannabis or medicinal cannabis products for the moment, to ensure that sufficient product is available for Australian patients.
That really isn’t a burning issue as little is being grown here at this point in time. It was only last week the Office of Drug control issued the first licence to a company to legally cultivate medicinal cannabis and conduct related medical research.
According to the ABC, twenty-five companies have applied for licences to grow and manufacture medicinal cannabis in Australia.