How Medical Cannabis Access is Changing in Australia

As of the 6th of October, the federal government in Australia pledged to provide $3 million to fund investigation into the ways medical cannabis can help to treat cancer patients. This commitment comes after it was revealed that over 11,000 Australians have been approved to access medical cannabis products, with many of these people thought to be able to access these products this year.

In regard to the commitment to provide $3 million dollars for further research, Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, was quoted in a ministry statement saying that until now: ‘There have only been a limited number of well-designed clinical studies on medicinal cannabis, and we need to increase the evidence base to support medical professionals’.

This sentiment is certainly echoed elsewhere in the world too, where restrictions on medical cannabis use have historically made it harder to trial and study its effects and possible benefits. The hope is that with further research, many more benefits and further uses of medical cannabis will become apparent. Once these benefits become apparent hopefully medical cannabis can then aid many more patients with treatment-resistant and debilitating conditions.

For now, Mr. Hunt stresses that the Australian government is committed to developing and furthering the existing evidence on medical cannabis and its efficacy. Mr. Hunt is also clear that this medical cannabis will remain accessible only through a prescription from a medical professional, maintaining the country’s general stance on recreational use of cannabis remaining illegal.

Despite the country’s general stance, in late September, the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Legislative Assembly passed laws making the possession, growth and personal use of cannabis legal in the country’s capital Canberra. If unchallenged, the laws will come into effect at the end of January and will allow people living in Canberra to grow up to two plants and possess up to 50 grams of cannabis.

Even so, there is a discrepancy here in that 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. Indeed, the shadow-attorney general for the ACT has outlined his lack of support for the new bill and suggests that its conflicting nature with existing commonwealth law would mean that the police in the territory would be working with an unclear legal framework.

Overall, these are some promising steps in the right direction for the country, with further research funding and less prohibitive legislation making the topic of medical cannabis use less of a minefield and more of a research-backed, legitimate area of medical interest. However, more progress is needed in making any new legislation put in place clear and cohesive with existing legal frameworks.

For more in depth information on different regulations in various countries and how this affects pharmacists and patients, 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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