Some terminally ill patients will now have faster access to medicinal cannabis following a Greens motion
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.
The TGA currently has two access pathways in which Australian medical practitioners may prescribe unregistered cannabinoid medicines. Both of these pathways require the medicinal practitioner to apply for and wait for approval from the TGA prior to be able to prescribe.
SAS Category A does not require prior approval but is a process where the medical practitioner notifies the TGA they have prescribed the medicines.
Currently any unregistered therapeutic goods can potentially be supplied via the SAS Category A process, except for:
- prohibited substances in Schedule 9 of the Poisons Standard; and
- medicinal cannabis products.
“We have here a disallowance motion that effectively says to people around Australia: if you are suffering from a terminal illness, it is no longer acceptable that you cannot get access to medication that can relieve you of your pain and suffering,” Senator Di Natale told the Senate.
“Support for this disallowance motion is effectively support for restoring the existing rights of patients who, by definition, are suffering from life-threatening conditions.
“This disallowance makes two simple changes to the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Narcotic Drugs) Regulation 2016 to restore—and again I say ‘restore’—the rights of terminally ill patients, rights that were stripped away when the government supported this regulation, so that those people can now access medicinal cannabis products through category A of the TGA Special Access Scheme.”
The motion was also backed by Labor, Senator Derryn Hinch, and One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson, who said that “Category A patients—better known as terminally ill patients—have One Nation’s support to ensure that, if they are dying, the TGA would not veto their right to quality of life”.
Elaine Darby, managing director of AusCann, says that “AusCann welcomes any changes that may increase the ability of Australian medical practitioners to prescribe cannabinoid medicines to critically ill patients”.
But “the major barrier for patients being able to access and medicinal practitioners being able to prescribe is the various state approval schemes in place,” she warns.
The access schemes provide the necessary checks and balances for the approval of medical practitioners to prescribe unregistered cannabinoid medicines, she says.
“Existing state legislation and regulations provides the appropriate requirements for the storage, prescription and dispensing of controlled substances, schedule 8, such as cannabinoid medicines.
“Additional state based approval access scheme and committees specifically for cannabinoid medicines is not required and overtly burdensome.
“Cannabinoid medicines should be treated like other schedule 8 medicines by the states. This is the approach that has been taken by the South Australian Government. Under the South Australian patient access pathway existing legislation that regulates the prescribing and supply of S8 medicines in South Australia applies to S8 cannabinoid medicines.
“We would encourage other states to take the lead of the South Australian Government to improve the accessibility of cannabinoid medicines for Australian patients in need.”