Health Minister and doctors criticise Senate decision on medicinal cannabis

Tuesday’s Senate vote on medicinal cannabis access removes safeguards against unsafe product imported from overseas, they warn.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says he is consulting with the TGA on the decision.

Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale moved that the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Narcotic Drugs) Regulation 2016 be changed to restore the rights of terminally ill patients to access medicinal cannabis products through the TGA SAS Category A process.

Mr Hunt described the vote’s success as “deeply concerning and disappointing”.

“Mr Shorten and others who have joined him should reflect upon the fact that they have acted in defiance of the advice of the TGA, in defiance of the advice of the leading medical practitioners, in terms of the AMA and the College of GPs, even in defiance of the views of Palliative Care Australia,” Mr Hunt said.

“There is already a safe, legal way to access medicinal cannabis in Australia, 133 patients have been prescribed that.

“We opened the door to ensure that there were four major shipments that have already been delivered, so medicinal cannabis, where the doctors believe it can be prescribed, in a safe form, is available.

“This decision today, however, by Mr Shorten and others removes those safeguards.

“The Therapeutic Goods Administration could not be clearer that it is a potential risk, not just to health, but to lives.

“It is, unfortunately, a reckless and irresponsible decision. I would call upon them to reflect upon that. We cannot accept this and I have asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration for advice.”

AMA president Dr Michael Gannon warned Sky News’ Ashleigh Gillon that concerns remain about the evidence to support medicinal cannabis, as well as the possibility of drug diversion.

“What the Minister already knows a lot about and what the jurisdictions have seen is that doctors are reluctant to prescribe medicinal cannabis. This is no different to any other new drug, new technology, new operation; we want to be assured of the safety, assured of the effectiveness.

“So you’ve already got a situation where doctors are querying exactly how effective medicinal cannabis is. If you in any way put any doubt in their minds about the safety, you’re simply not going to see it prescribed by many doctors.”

He said doctors are not concerned about addiction, or too concerned about major potential side-effects, in the palliative care setting but “we remain concerned about potential diversion into the general community.

“And let’s not forget, we’re talking about cannabis, we’re talking about a substance that, used in the form it’s used by most people, is a major source of mental illness in our community. It’s absolutely essential that we’re assured that whatever’s being brought into the country, whatever’s being brought in for prescription is safe – even if we’re talking about its use in the palliative care setting

“The Australian community would be outraged if prescription medication was rushed in, if someone said that it was okay to use… Why would we possibly have a different rule when it comes to cannabis?”

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM) also called for improved consultation with end-of-life care experts after yesterday’s decision.

“As the specialty medical society for practioners in palliative medicine, ANZSPM is concerned that the decision to pass the disallowance motion will create access pathways for unregistered medicinal cannabis products and will reduce oversight by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and clinicians in State and Territory Governments,” said ANZSPM President, Dr Carol Douglas.

“That oversight provides key safeguards for both patients and practitioners.”