Medicinal cannabis use in Australia, one more step in access for patients

Last year, Federal Parliament made amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act that legalised the growing of cannabis for medicinal reasons. In November 2016, it came into effect. In this way, it became legal to cultivate and manufacture medicinal cannabis in Australia, which means people will be able to apply for a licence to grow their own cannabis crop.

In February 2017, Health Minister Greg Hunt approved medicinal cannabis trade. Subsequently, thirty permits have been granted to import medicinal cannabis products from Canada, Switzerland and the Netherlands. These new importation rules make medicinal cannabis products more readily accessible to Australian doctors where they believe it can provide a clinical benefit to their patients.

On 3 May 2017, the first two commercial shipments of medicinal cannabis products to be legally imported to Australia have arrived. More shipments are expected to arrive in Australia throughout May.

This federal approval to access the drug may be sufficient but in some states, as Western Australia, patients need to get separate state approval. In the case of WA, they had got really unfair hurdles that requires patients two months to navigate. But, on 4 May 2017, green light has been given. Indeed, Australian drug regulators have granted what is believed to be the first licence to grow medical cannabis in WA and hope to have the first locally grown product ready next year.

These new rules mean that chronic and seriously ill Australians, which include cancer patients, HIV sufferers and people with severe epilepsy, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis, among others, will now be able to have a constant access to the drug from their local pharmacy and not be forced to wait months for a product to enter the county via legal means or turn to the black market.

Obviously, the use and cultivation of cannabis is still illegal in Australia without authorisation, justification or excuse under law. Indeed, the Health Minister pointed out that while access to medicinal cannabis is easier for now, Australia is maintaining strict safeguards for individual and community safety.

If some people are still sceptical about potential drifts to this new access, the Federal Government insures that the access of cannabis is safe and reliable. In effect, cannabis is available but can only be dealt with through prescription and through a very rigorous medical process, as with any serious drugs and medicines.

Regardless, it’s undoubtedly encouraging to see such a progression for Australians living with a cancer, but we must keep in mind that medicinal cannabis may not be appropriate for all cancer patients and so medical research must carry on in order to only aim at ill Australians for whom it can provide a clinical benefit.