In October last year, the Australian government officially legalised the use of medicinal marijuana for those suffering from severely painful or chronic illnesses such as cancer, motor neuron disease, arthritis, muscle spasms and epilepsy. It’s use however, is currently judged on a case by case basis with the medication being shipped from overseas suppliers. Now, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s new scheme could see easier and faster importation (under 8 weeks) while local produce increases and can meet the demands of users.
Now that medicinal marijuana is legalised in Australia, Hunt’s aims are set on addressing and dealing “immediately with the question of supply”. Hunt believes this new scheme is needed in order to obtain the required supplies to meet “all of the medical demands” although understands it “won’t happen overnight”. He explains that “what we’ve done here is issue a call for people to be able to establish an interim supply for and within Australia through importation”.
While this scheme is being settled, states are currently in charge of regulating the farming and growth of the medicine. Victoria has successfully just harvested its first crop of “safe, high quality, appropriately obtained medicine” for those suffering from epilepsy. The first ever license for private growth and maintenance of a cannabis crop was issued last week, one of many to come to ensure the legal and safe evolution of the medicinal plant.
Although Hunts scheme aims to allow easier access to this medication, there are still many obstacles facing patients who need it. Campaigner Lucy Haslam although excited to hear of the new scheme believed it was “long overdue”.
Her son Dan used cannabis to treat his severe bowel cancer until he passed away in 2014. Lucy however has continued to campaign for its use in Australia but raises awareness of the other underlying issues in obtaining the medication in regards to the difficulty in the applications for access and finding authorised prescribers.
“Even the process of finding an authorised prescriber [is hard]. I’ll be looking to see how the Government makes it easier for patients, how they marry up the disconnect between the patients looking for medicine and being able to find somebody to prescribe it for them.”
There are still many who are against selling and using cannabis for medicinal purposes such as Doctor Tony Bartone from the Australian Medical Association, who outlines that doctors are still learning of the effects and reviewing is success rate in clinical trials: “The majority are still waiting for the proof, the reliable trials, the clinical evidence to come in”. Greg Hunt however, is looking positively to the future: “Ultimately this is about the Government doing the right thing under the strictest conditions. Safety and quality are paramount.”