Greater acceptance of medicinal cannabis and more straightforward means for patients to obtain medical cannabis treatments has been unanimously agreed by Australia’s health ministers representing its six states.
The current incumbents at the state level are Roger Cook (Western Australia), Jill Hennessy (Victoria), Brad Hazzard (New South Wales), Stephen Wade (South Australia), Stephen Miles (Queensland) and Natasha Kate Fyles (Northern Territories).
According to media reports over the weekend, patients in all states and territories will get faster access to medicinal cannabis after their health ministers decided to streamline the process last Friday – by agreeing to a common pathway that removes the need to obtain several approvals to satisfy state-level legislation.
Australia’s federal health minister Greg Hunt had already signed up New South Wales to the process, which now paves the way for medical cannabis to be made available to patients “within 48 hours” as opposed to several weeks under the previous status-quo.
The new agreed pathway effectively removes the need for patients and medical practitioners to obtain duplicated approvals at the federal and state levels.
From now on, only one approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will be sufficient, although various import permits and licenses will still be issued by the Office of Drug Control, as demonstrated by the recent approval for Bod Australia (ASX: BDA) to market and sell medical cannabis oil across Australia.
Mr Hunt said the unanimously agreed new pathway for patients to obtain medical cannabis would create a “one-stop-shop” for patients seeking the treatment with the decision to prescribe [medical cannabis] to be rightly in the hand of medical professionals,” he said.
In a clear change of heart compared to previous federal commentary and stance regarding the legality of medical cannabis, Mr Hunt said that “time should not be a matter of concern once a doctor has made his or her prescription”.
“This is an important day for patient access,” said Mr Hunt.
Medical cannabis status
Legislation to enable the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and related research purposes in Australia was passed in February 2016, with various amendments relating to licensing coming into effect later that year in October 2016.
A detailed regulatory framework has been put in place to enable applications for licences and permits for the cultivation, production and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products.
Considering that cannabis has been classified as an illegal drug by Australian authorities, the surfacing of medical cannabis as a viable treatment option for patients with a wide range of ailments has put Australian legislators in a compromised position and often at the brunt of patients demanding change in legislation to help them obtain access to medical cannabis with reportedly excellent healthcare benefits.
Following several legislative changes since 2016 (and set against a stark contrast in legislative changes in policy trailblazers such as Canada and the US), medicinal cannabis products are gradually being made available for specific patient groups under medical supervision.
As the tide continues to shift, cannabis grown for medicinal purposes, as well as its derivative products, remains subject to stringent security and quality control measures.
Companies with exposure to cannabis will be eagerly anticipating the latest developments in legislation surrounding cannabis.