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25 Feb 2016

Medicinal cannabis will be bracketed with morphine and other restricted medicines under changes to the Poisons Schedule being made following the passage of legislation legalising and regulating its cultivation and supply.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said the Health Department and the Therapeutic Goods Administration were “well advanced” in changing the categorisation of medicinal cannabis to a Schedule 8 substance.

Ms Ley said the change would simplify arrangements regarding the legal possession of medicinal cannabis products, “placing them in the same category as restricted medicines such as morphine, rather than an illicit drug”.

The TGA is due to make an interim decision on the change in March, which will then be subject to further consultation.

The change is part of a suite of measures being undertaken after Parliament approved amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act making it legal to cultivate and manufacture medicinal cannabis.

The legislation was passed in rapid order and without amendment, aided by support from the major political parties and across the political spectrum.

“This is an historic day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products so genuine patients are no longer treated as criminals,” Ms Ley said. “This is the missing piece in a patient’s treatment journey, and will now see seamless access to locally-produced medicinal cannabis products from farm to pharmacy.”

Medicinal cannabis is currently imported by individuals from overseas to treat a range of conditions including severe epilepsy and nausea and loss of appetite associated with chemotherapy.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler has said medicinal cannabis should be subject to the same sort of scrutiny and testing as any other medicine.

The Government’s legislation provides for the creation of a single, national body to regulate the cultivation and supply of medicinal cannabis.

Those wanting to cultivate cannabis for medical or research purposes will have to show that they are a “fit and proper person”, do not have ties to criminal activity, and be able to demonstrate they have the capacity to ensure the physical security of the crop before being granted a licence.

The quantities and strains of cannabis produced will be tightly controlled, and a system of permits will be used to ensure that amounts to be manufactured are planned in advance, and are in proportion to demand.

Ms Ley said the Government, through the national regulator, would closely track the development of medicinal cannabis products “from cultivation to supply, and curtail any attempts by criminals to get involved”.

Initially, the focus of the scheme will be production for domestic consumption, with any provision for exports “to be addressed at a later date”.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 25 Feb 2016