The ACT is well known for having the most relaxed cannabis laws in the country but the Territory has been slower than other states to establish a medicinal cannabis scheme for the very sick. That’s all about to change.
Although it is illegal to grow, possess or use cannabis anywhere in Australia, if you are caught with less than 25g of marijuana or two non-hydroponic plants in the ACT you will be slapped with a $100 fine but no criminal charges but the ACT has lagged behind Queensland, Victoria and NSW in introducing a medicinal cannabis scheme.
ACT Assistant Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris announced today (Thursday) that the ACT will give people safe, legal access to high quality medicinal cannabis, following the recent interim decision by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to downgrade cannabis from a prohibited substance to a controlled drug.
Ms Fitzharris said getting the scheme up and running was a priority but it needed to be built on evidence.
“At the moment, there are no clinical guidelines on what types of conditions medicinal cannabis can and should be prescribed for,” she said.
“The ACT Government will develop evidence-based guidelines to inform and support medical practitioners in how to best prescribe medicinal cannabis products. We will also develop education materials for clinicians and the general public to support these guidelines.”
Despite the move, the ACT will not agree to license the cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis within its borders, even though federal legislation allows it.
Instead of growing the stuff the ACT would lead the R&D to develop a framework for the prescription, use and distribution of medicinal cannabis.
Ms Fitzharris said: “We already have some of the best medical researchers in the country based at our local institutions and advancing research on the efficacy of medicinal cannabis to treat a range of illnesses and conditions presents another opportunity to support cutting edge research in Canberra and showcase our city as the research capital of Australia.”
The University of Canberra is currently running a $1 million medical cannabis trial for treating melanoma in partnership with Cann Pharmaceutical.
The ACT government will set up two expert advisory committees to deal with the issues thrown up by the scheme.
The Medicinal Cannabis Medical Advisory Panel will advise on developing clinical guidelines and regulations while the Medicinal Cannabis Advisory Group will advise government on the broader economic, legal and social issues related to the introduction of a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, including criminal activity and law enforcement.
The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is expected to be in place by 2017.
ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury, whose 2015 Bill to introduce medicinal cannabis was rejected by the major parties, welcomed the government’s positive policy shift but said it should act quickly.
“In the past there have unfortunately been policy commitments on medicinal cannabis by other state governments which have never come to fruition – for example over a decade ago NSW promised a medicinal cannabis scheme when under public pressure only to later abandon the promise and make no progress at all,” he said.
He urged the government not to be too restrictive about who could access the scheme and said it should include people with terminal illnesses as well as other serious illnesses, including children with severe epilepsy. with the backing of a doctor.
Rattenbury argued that the scheme should happen within one year and until then there should be an amnesty for very sick people found in possession of small amounts of cannabis for medical use.
He added that it would be best if it was not just limited to pharmaceutical cannabis products because there were not many of them and they would take many years to develop further.