While the evidence base around the use of medicinal cannabis is being developed it is recognised that in certain circumstances access to unapproved treatments may provide some benefits, particularly for intractable paediatric epilepsy and nausea control in HIV and cancer patients. Other conditions and circumstances are also being researched and may result in a case for medicinal cannabis treatment.
On 10 February 2016, the Australian Government introduced the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 (the Bill). The Bill was passed by the Australian Parliament on 24 February 2016 and the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act 2016
(the Act) now provides the critical ‘missing piece’ for the Commonwealth to enable a sustainable supply of safe medicinal cannabis products to Australian patients in the future.
The Act provides a national licensing scheme to enable cultivation of cannabis in Australia by creating a legal supply of cannabis for incorporation into medicinal cannabis products that are safe and of appropriate quality. This means people will not have to turn to the black market for cannabis and it will enable appropriate medical supervision. When accessed in accordance with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989
and relevant state and territory law, patients will not be exposed to criminal prosecution or the health risks associated with products of unknown safety and quality.
It is important to note that the Act does not legalise the cultivation of cannabis or use of cannabis outside of regulated medical purposes. Nor is it about making cannabis products available ‘over-the-counter’ or outside of a prescription by an approved medical professional or through an approved clinical trial. The same high safety standards that are applied to any other medicine will be applied for cannabis derived products. The Act strikes the right balance between patient access, community protection and Australia’s international obligations regarding the control of narcotic drugs.
The Act will open the way for Australians with painful and chronic conditions to get access to the relief they need where this is determined by their doctor to be of potential benefit.
Finally, cannabis will remain an illegal drug in Australia for non-medical use and the Government has no plans to change that.