There have recently been a series of developments advancing the Australian medicinal cannabis industry.
Key developments include recommendations put forward by Professor John McMillan AO aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on the medicinal cannabis industry, the Australian Capital Territory legalising possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis for an individual over 18 years of age and permitting the cultivation of up to four cannabis plants (excluding artificial cultivation), and the Australian Government announcing it will be investing AU$3 million into the industry for research.
The Australian Federal Government has a fully established cannabis production and manufacturing regulatory regime. The Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (Cth) (ND Act) establishes a licence and permit scheme to regulate the cultivation, production and manufacture of medicinal cannabis. The scheme allows patients and doctors to access a legal domestic source of cannabis for medicinal use. The ND Act gives effect to Australia’s obligations under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 as in force from time to time.
Since legislation came into effect on 30 October 2016 to allow the legal cultivation, production and manufacturing of medical cannabis products in Australia, there have been a series of developments advancing the Australian medicinal cannabis industry.
Key developments include:
- Permitting the export of Australian manufactured medicinal cannabis products, subject to local demand.
- The introduction of new legislation in Queensland (revoking the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Act 2016 (Qld)) to simplify the process for patients and doctors to access medicinal cannabis.
- On 5 September 2019, Professor John McMillan AO’s Final Report (Final Report) on the operation of the ND Act was tabled in Parliament. Minister Hunt has accepted all 26 recommendations put forward by Professor McMillan which are primarily aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on the medicinal cannabis industry. Notably, Professor McMillan recommends replacing the current three licence structure in the ND Act with a single licence structure. This will require significant legislative and administrative changes.
- On 25 September 2019, the Australian Capital Territory passed the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill 2018 which amends the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 (ACT) and the Criminal Code 2002 (ACT) to legalise possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis for an individual over 18 years of age and permit the cultivation of up to four cannabis plants (excluding artificial cultivation).
- On 6 October 2019, the Australian Government announced it will be investing AU$3 million to examine the benefits of medicinal cannabis to manage pain, symptoms and side effects in cancer patients. The outcomes of these studies will greatly assist health professionals in the prescription of medicinal cannabis products. Typically, cannabis products are prescribed for treatment indications such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, neuropathic pain, epilepsy and cancer pain. However, there is currently lack of information on dose response and adverse events from the use of medicinal cannabis products.
In the short term, it is anticipated some of the reforms arising from the Final Report will be implemented at the end of this year.
A particular challenge over the course of the next few years will be on developing a streamlined process for supply of medicinal cannabis both at a Commonwealth and State level to avoid unnecessary administrative burden for manufactures and suppliers.