Medicinal cannabis will be legally grown in Australia, with changes passed to create a national licensing scheme for growers.
The changes to the Narcotic Drugs Act, which passed the Senate on Wednesday, create a national body that can issue licences to growers and regulate local crops of medicinal marijuana.
The many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products so genuine patients are no longer treated as criminals.
Health Minister Sussan Ley
The drug remains a “prohibited substance” under the poisons schedule. But Health Minister Sussan Ley said the Department of Health and the Therapeutic Goods Administration were “well-advanced” in considering downgrading it to a “controlled substance” class, putting it in the same category as morphine.
The federal government says patients will be able to access locally-produced medicinal cannabis with a valid …
The federal government says patients will be able to access locally-produced medicinal cannabis with a valid prescription under the scheme. Photo: Uriel Sinai
“This will in turn reduce any barriers to access, no matter what state a patient lives in,” she said.
Ms Ley said that patients would be able to access locally-produced medicinal cannabis with a valid prescription under the scheme.
It was previously illegal to grow and import most medicinal cannabis products, leading some patients to buy them from the black market and run the risk of being prosecuted for drug use and possession.
“This is an historic day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products so genuine patients are no longer treated as criminals,” she said.
Advocates have said that regulating medicinal cannabis for certain health conditions will pave the way for a safe, sustainable local industry and allow more research to be done on the quality of different products.
A handful of Australian companies have been preparing to import medicinal marijuana cuttings from overseas and searching for potential sites to plant crops in anticipation of the changes.
AusCann chairman and former Liberal MP Mal Washer said the Therapeutic Goods Administration still had to determine the types of medicinal marijuana that could legally be grown and manufactured. But he said the group could start growing the product within a month of this decision.
Listed company MGC Pharmaceuticals executive chairman Brett Mitchell said the Australian market for medicinal marijuana was worth billions of dollars, and the local climate was ideal for growing the plant.
“It’s really fast-tracked our strategic planning of starting our operations in Australia. We didn’t think it would move this quickly.”
He said cannabidiol would be highly sought after to help treat severe epilepsy and nausea following chemotherapy. This had strong anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties.
Lucy Haslam, who has led the campaign to legalise medicinal cannabis, estimated that hundreds of thousands of Australians bought the drug on the black market to treat conditions such as paediatric epilepsy. She said the prosecution risk they faced added to the “enormous burden” associated with such life-threatening conditions.
Wednesday was also the anniversary of the death of her son Dan, who publicly revealed he was using the drug to relieve the nausea and vomiting he experienced as he underwent chemotherapy, and campaigned alongside her.
Ms Haslam said: “He would really be at peace today. He didn’t want to die…but it would give him peace to know this is going to help so many Australians. I think he’d be proud.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the changes were an “important first step” to legalising medicinal marijuana. More work was needed to deal with how doctors would prescribe the drug and how it would be distributed, he said.
Senator Di Natale dropped his attempt to pass a separate law – co-sponsored by Labor and Liberal senators – to establish a regulator that would oversee growth, manufacture and distribution, but said: “If we don’t see the drug make its way to pharmacies and to doctors, we will look at reintroducing legislation that does that.”