Australian Minister for Health Greg Hunt announced last week the Federal Government will prioritise medical cannabis projects granted Major Project Status.
So, what does this mean? According to Minister Hunt, projects with this status will be given priority for medicinal cannabis licences through the Office of Drug Control (ODC) from the beginning of September. However, they’ll still need to meet all the criteria that other applicants must.
A company likely very happy with the news is Asterion, whose Toowoomba medicinal cannabis venture was awarded Major Project Status in April. MPS is granted to projects with the potential to make significant contributions to exports, jobs and industry development.
The proposed $450 million Toowoomba project certainly meets the criteria. It is expected to employ 800 full-time and 300 part-time and shift workers. An estimated 500,000 kg of medicinal cannabis will be produced annually, with an export value of more than $1 billion.
Some interesting figures included in the Minister’s release were the number of licences issued so far in Australia by the ODC for several categories.
- 24 licences for cultivation for medicinal use
- 16 for research cultivation
- 23 medical cannabis product manufacturing licences
The medical cannabis industry in Australia is very, very heavily regulated. A recently completed review of the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 made 26 recommendations to reduce red tape, all of which the Morrison Government has agreed to in principle. Minister Hunt said two proposed changes will simplify the administration of the Australia’s medicinal cannabis scheme and remove some barriers to the industry.
For the industry, the Morrison Government says it will also move towards a single licence model – one application for a medicinal cannabis licence covering cultivation, production, manufacture and research related activities.
“Cutting red tape and streamlining processes will strengthen this important and evolving industry, and ensure medicinal cannabis is available to Australian patients under proper medical supervision,” said Minister Hunt.
Another interesting figure revealed by the Minister was the number of patients who have been authorised to access a medicinal cannabis product through the Special Access and Authorised Prescriber Schemes – approximately 7,196 as at the end of June. It’s a significant increase, but nowhere close to demand. There are still many hurdles patients and their doctors must clear, and product availability and pricing remain major challenges for patients.
The Government has been continually criticised for the difficulties patients face in applying for and accessing medicines. In March this year, Australian Greens leader Dr. Richard Di Natale said the scheme was a mess. Medical cannabis advocate Lucy Haslam said specialist submissions to the review showed the scheme was a “an ill-conceived, directionless system in chaos and absolute meltdown”.