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Safe and legal medicinal pot just a vote away

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Medicinal cannabis should become much more readily available under Federal Government plans to establish a single, national licensing scheme for the production and supply of the drug.

In an initiative cautiously welcomed by medical groups, Health Minister Sussan Ley has introduced legislation amending existing narcotics laws to allow for controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes.

“For Australia, this is the missing piece in a patient’s journey,” Ms Ley said. “Importantly, having a safe, legal and reliable source of products will ensure medical practitioners are now at the centre of the decision-making process on whether medicinal cannabis may be beneficial for their patient”.

There are already provisions in place to allow for the legal production and distribution of medicinal cannabis, which can be prescribed by authorised specialists.

But demand significantly outstrips supply, making it difficult and expensive for patients to obtain.

Ms Ley said the legislation would provide “the missing piece in the puzzle” by improving the availability of the drug.

“I am confident [that] creating one single, nationally-consistent cultivation scheme…will not only help speed up the legislative and regulatory process but, ultimately, access to medicinal cannabis products as well,” the Minister said.

The AMA said its supports a nationally-consistent and evidence-based approach to the regulation, supply and use of medicinal cannabis.

In its submission to a Senate committee inquiry on the issue last year, the peak medical group said medicinal cannabis should be regulated in the same way as other therapeutic narcotic products, “in order to ensure it can be standardised and regulated in its pharmaceutical preparations and administration”, reducing potential harm to users.

Medicinal cannabis has been used to reduce the incidence of nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, as an appetite stimulant, and as a treatment for chronic pain.

But AMA President Professor Brian Owler said last year that there needed to be a considered and evidence-based approach to its use.

“There are some conditions where it clearly may be beneficial, and perhaps we don’t need to have an in-depth trial on those sorts of indications. But there are clearly others where the evidence is actually not there,” Professor Owler said. “We need to have proper trials and regulate it as a medication just like any other medication.”

The Royal Australian College of Physicians said that although the move to establish a safe, legal and reliable national supply of the drug was welcome, significant details regarding who would be authorised to prescribe medicinal cannabis, and what appropriate dosages might be, were yet to be resolved.

“It still needs to be determined which type of medical specialist will be authorised to prescribe the drug,” College President Professor Nicholas Talley said. “And we also have reservations that there is still no standard dose of cannabis, and that dosage can vary according to condition.”

Ms Ley expects the legislation to have bipartisan support and to be passed in this session of Parliament.

Adrian Rollins