Cannabis inquiry to look into patient barriers

A committee will look into regulatory and financial barriers to patients accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia following Greens’ call for inquiry

A Senate committee will be exploring the regulatory regime surrounding medicinal cannabis in Australia after Senator Richard Di Natale, Leader of the Australian Greens, called for an inquiry last week.

Senator Di Natale asked for a committee to look into “current barriers to patient access to medicinal cannabis in Australia” including:

  • the appropriateness of the current regulatory regime through the TGA Special Access Scheme, Authorised Prescriber Scheme and clinical trials;
  • the suitability of the PBS for subsidising patient access to medicinal cannabis products;
  • the interaction between state and territory authorities and the Commonwealth, including overlap and variation between state and territory schemes;
  • Australia’s regulatory regime in comparison to international best-practice models for medicinal cannabis regulation and patient access;
  • availability of training for doctors in the current TGA regulatory regime for prescribing medicinal cannabis to their patients;
  • education of doctors in the Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS), and the appropriateness of medicinal cannabis treatments for various indications;
  • sources of information for doctors about uses of medicinal cannabis and how these might be improved and widened;
  • delays in access, and the practice of product substitution, due to importation of medicinal cannabis and the shortage of Australian manufactured medicinal cannabis products;
  • the current status of the domestic regulated medicinal cannabis industry;
  • the impacts on the mental and physical wellbeing of those patients struggling to access medicinal cannabis through Australia’s regulatory regime;
  • the particular barriers for those in rural and remote areas in accessing medicinal cannabis legally;
  • the significant financial barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis treatment; and
  • the number of Australian patients continuing to rely on unregulated supply of medicinal cannabis due to access barriers and the impacts associated with that.

The Coalition objected to the proposal.

“The government does not support the premise of this proposed inquiry,” argued Senator Jonathon Duniam.

“It wilfully ignores the significant progress made to date. The Morrison government continues to make it easier for doctors to access medicinal cannabis products more rapidly while maintaining strict safeguards for individual and community safety.

“Since January 2016 over 23,000 applications for medicinal cannabis have been approved to nearly 15,000 patients via the special access scheme, which is overseen by the TGA.

“There is no barrier to applications to the PBS,” he argued.

“PBS applicants must, by law, be determined on medical, not political grounds as proposed in this motion.”

Despite the Coalition’s objections, the motion passed in the Senate.

The matter has been referred to the Community Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report by 12 February 2020.

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