Cannabis in Australia

Country profile

· Population: 24.6 million

· Prevalence of Cannabis Users (%): 10.2

· Ruling Government Party: The Liberal National Party

· Party Stance on Cannabis: In favour of medical cannabis use

Landscape and policy

Medical cannabis was legalised in Australia on the 30th of October in 2016. In 2017, the rescheduling of medical cannabis products by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) made the prescription of medical cannabis legal in the country, with Queensland and New South Wales passing legislation that allowed GPs to prescribe medical cannabis.

However, medical cannabis use remains highly regulated in the country, which has limited the growth of the market somewhat.

The country’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is involved in the regulation of the supply of medical cannabis, which means doctors currently have to apply to the administration to supply products to patients through the Special Access Scheme and the Authorised Prescriber Scheme. It’s not possible for patients to apply to the TGA themselves, so their GP must do this for them.

Recreational cannabis use and cultivation is still illegal in Australia.

So how do you become an authorised prescriber of medical cannabis in Australia?

To become an authorised prescriber, GPs have to:

· Have the expertise and training needed to address the issue being treated and to propose use of the cannabis product

· Be able to monitor the therapy’s outcomes

· Be able to effectively ascertain the needs of the patient.

GPs then have to report the number of patients they’ve treated to the TGA every 6 months. They are also required to seek endorsement for their application from an ethics committee who are responsible for ensuring the safety of the cannabis-based product for the treatment of the specific condition. They also have to assess the suitability of the medical practitioner applying to prescribe.

It should be noted though that laws vary in different states throughout the country, so this has an impact on the patient’s ability to access medical cannabis in each case.

Recent updates

In late September, the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly passed laws making the possession, growth and personal use of cannabis legal in Canberra. If unchallenged, the laws will be put in place in January and will mean people living in Canberra are allowed to grow up to two plants and possess 50 grams of cannabis. Even with this legislative change though, there is a discrepancy here as the growth and possession of cannabis would remain a federal offence, with the risk of prosecution “not entirely removed”, but “in practice” the laws wouldn’t apply.

The shadow-attorney general for the ACT has outlined his disapproval of the new bill and suggests that the bill’s contrary nature with existing commonwealth law would mean the police would be working within an unclear legal framework.

As of the 6th of October, Australia’s federal government pledged to provide $3 million in funding for an investigation into the ways medical cannabis can treat cancer patients. This commitment comes after the news that over 11,000 Australians have been approved to access medical cannabis products with a large percentage of this number thought to be able to access these products later this year.

For more in depth information on different regulations in various countries and how this affects pharmacists, we recommend accessing our in depth modules available on our website. Here, you can find up to date information on CBMPs and how best to prescribe them. You can also explore our news section and evidence base for the latest information on this ever-changing area of research.

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