The Turnbull Government will today introduce legislation providing the “missing piece” for Australian patients and their doctors to access a safe, legal and reliable supply of medicinal cannabis products for the management of painful and chronic conditions.
Minister for Health Sussan Ley today announced the amendments to the Narcotics Drugs Act 1967 would allow the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes through one single national licensing scheme – an Australian first.
Ms Ley says that if passed, this legislation will open the way for Australians with painful and chronic conditions to get access to the relief they needed where this was determined by their doctors to be of potential benefit.
“This is an important day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products,” she says.
“For Australia, this is the missing piece in a patient’s journey.
“Importantly, having a safe, legal and reliable source of products will ensure medical practitioners are now at the centre of the decision making process on whether medicinal cannabis may be beneficial for their patient.”
Ms Ley said the Turnbull Government had worked closely with the states and territories, law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders over the past eight weeks to ensure this legislation was “robust” before bringing it to Parliament to give it the best chance of a smooth passage.
“I am also aware of the passion of many MPs and Senators from all sides of politics towards making this happen and I thank them for their contributions so far,” Minister Ley says.
“I sincerely hope the Parliament can continue to work together to pass this legislation in a bipartisan fashion as quickly as possible in the interest of Australian patients seeking access to medicinal cannabis.”
Currently, there are provisions already in place allowing the legal production and distribution of medicinal cannabis products to patients through various means via the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 and the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.
This includes authorised prescribers such as specialists working with particular patient groups and clinical trials run by research institutions and state and territory governments.
However, Australia does not currently have a safe, legal and reliable supply of locally-grown cannabis to allow the manufacture of therapeutic products or satisfy this demand, hence why today’s legislation has been described as the all-important “missing piece” to patient access.
Minister Ley reminded Australians today’s announcement did not relate to the decriminalisation of cannabis for general cultivation or recreational use, which remains a law enforcement issue for individual states and territories.
The Greens say there’s room to go further, however.
Australian Greens Leader Dr Richard Di Natale says he cautiously welcomes the bill but that it still falls short of delivering for patients.
“The Health Minister has labelled its medicinal cannabis legislation the ‘missing piece’ when it is really just the first piece of the puzzle,” says Senator Di Natale.
“This bill does nothing to change the fact that cannabis is scheduled as an illegal drug that cannot be prescribed by a doctor.
“Creating a national framework for cultivation and manufacture is an important step but the final test for any reform is whether it will get this medicine in the hands of everyone who needs it.
“The Federal Government needs to actively engage with the TGA, state governments, and with doctors and pharmacists to make sure that we overcome the many barriers that still stand between patients and the medicine they need.
“I will be probing for more details about the regulatory framework in Senate Estimates today because the government’s announcement is very light on detail.”