Medical cannabis may be legal in the Australian state of Queensland, but the lack of prescribing doctors and other factors make it anything but easily accessible to those who could benefit from it.
According to a Brisbane Times report, there have been 10 applications for single-patient prescribers for medicinal cannabis, with just four approved and the remainder pending. A single patient prescriber is a doctor pursuing an application to prescribe medical cannabis to one patient.
As for patient-class prescribers, specialists who are able to prescribe for a number of patients, there are just two in the entire state.
The figures were provided by Health Minister Cameron Dick during budget estimates hearings.
It’s little wonder there’s just a handful of prescribing doctors as attaining either status is accompanied by complex processes – and that’s only part of part of the bigger picture. The following shows the pathways for each prescriber status; sourced from this document (PDF).
Single patient prescriber pathway
Patient class prescriber pathway
Added to all this are a raft of rules and regulations that must be adhered to in terms of record-keeping and reporting. Combined with mixed feelings in the medical community regarding the efficacy of cannabis medicine, it comes as no surprise then that Queensland doctors aren’t exactly champing at the bit to apply for either.
It’s also no surprise that given Australian-made legal medicinal cannabis products are not yet available and no imported medicines are on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), some Queensland patients will continue to risk prosecution by sourcing medicines through illegal means. The only patients to have the cost of their medicines covered are those participating in clinical trials.
While some Australian states give police discretionary power to not prosecute a patient found in possession of cannabis obtained by illicit means, this approach is not supported by the Queensland Government.
Regardless of how cannabis medicine is sourced, another risk for Queensland patients involves using any medication containing THC – it is illegal for any patient being treated with medicinal cannabis containing THC to drive while undergoing treatment. This is a hot-button topic in South Australia, where what is effectively a ban on driving has been challenged.