THE introduction of legislation that will allow the cultivation in Australia of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes is a massive win that will change the lives of Far Northerners, says Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch.
This morning, Minister for Health Sussan Ley MP presented the Narcotic Drug Amendment Bill 2016 into the House of Representatives. The Bill, when passed, will amend the Narcotic Drug Act 1967 to enable the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes in a way that is compliant with Australia’s international obligations.
“This is a very significant day, when medicinal cannabis is acknowledged as being a product that does make a real difference to people suffering a chronic condition or terminal disease,” Mr Entsch said this morning.
“I understand the Bill has the backing of the Opposition, so when successfully passed it will mean that patients and their family members will no longer have to hide in the shadows and source cannabis off the street, and law enforcement will no longer have to prosecute people who have bought cannabis – for medicinal purposes – illegally.
“I’d like to thank all the patients and families who have helped me on this journey and raised public awareness about their situations, in particular Lucy Haslam and her son Dan in New South Wales, Lanai Carter and her son Lindsay from Brisbane, and locally the Hickey family and Debbi Cliff.”
In Tuesday’s Liberal Party Room meeting, Mr Entsch congratulated Minister Ley on her efforts and also highlighted the strength of the advocacy from the Cross Party Group for Drug Policy and Law Reform, whose members include Victorian MP Sharman Stone, Leader of the Australian Greens Senator Richard di Natale and Mr Entsch.
“After working on this for around two years, it really is one of my ‘bucket list’ items that I was determined to get through while I was serving in this parliament,” Mr Entsch said.
The Commonwealth will oversee all regulatory aspects of the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes through one national scheme, removing the need for states and territories to implement legislation to set up individual cultivation schemes and ensuring laws are consistent across the country.
The Bill allows two types of cultivation licenses – one to produce cannabis for medicinal purposes and the other to grow for research purposes. For both, applicants have to be found to be ‘fit and proper’ persons and show that they can manage the physical security of the crop.
The products that are likely to be available are cannabis tincture for children, oil for adults, and raw product for vaporising.
Patients will be able to access the products either by taking part in clinical trials, or through a scheme whereby GPs or medical professionals can apply to become an ‘Authorised Prescriber’.
There will initially be a focus on childhood epilepsy – where the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis is well-documented – to treatment of nausea resulting from chemotherapy and HIV treatment, and palliative relief. However other patients suffering from chronic and ongoing conditions will also be able to apply to an Authorised Prescriber for access.
“This focus on a tightly controlled cultivation, manufacturing and distribution process will ensure that no product is diverted for illicit use and will help to ensure that we continue to meet our international obligations and don’t risk our very successful poppy industry,” Mr Entsch said.
Victoria and New South Wales are already well-advanced in their plans to produce and trial medicinal cannabis but other states including Queensland have also shown strong interest. Once the Bill is passed, it is suggested that the States could have product available to patients within 12 months.
“I’m sure there will be many who say that this Bill doesn’t go far enough, and that people should just be able to go to their GP and get a prescription for medicinal cannabis from the chemist. But that’s just not realistic at this stage,” Mr Entsch said.
“We need to view this as a vital first step – having the ability to cultivate and manufacture a legal product in Australia is the ‘missing piece’ that we have been struggling with.
“Let’s make sure we get the basics right, things like crop security and avoiding the stockpiling of product, and when that’s ticked off we can look at broadening the scheme and even exporting Australian medicinal cannabis to address the global shortage of legal product.
“In the meantime, I’ll do everything in my power to help get this through as quickly as we can, so the states can allow cultivation to start and patients can have legal access as soon as possible. I know from speaking to so many people that it will make a profound difference to their quality of life.”
To link to the content of the Bill and Explanatory Memorandum, please click here