The current state of medical cannabis in Australia

By Published On: February 16, 2017Categories: News

The media coverage that the Federal Government legalised or decriminalised cannabis across Australia in February 2016 is false and misleading. Furthermore the claim that from 1st November 2016 patients could go to their doctor and be prescribed cannabis is simply political spin and propaganda.

  • There is still no lawful supply of cannabis available in Australia, as the Federal Government has not granted any cultivation or manufacturing licences*.
  • Every step from seed to patient needs Federal and state approval.
  • Currently the only way for patients to access a lawful supply of cannabis is to import it themselves from overseas, with the support of their own doctors and pharmacist through the Special Access Scheme (SAS).
  • The Government research trials have been beset with problems from when they were announced almost 2 years ago. The NSW Government has recently announced that the trial for the terminally ill is not likely to start until sometime next year.
  • The trials are using imported cannabis that is coming from countries that allow their patients to access the exact same cannabis.
  • At a State and Territory level, cannabis is being controlled as a drug of addiction similar to methadone. After doctors obtain the mandatory TGA Category B approval, they must also obtain state approval under a bureaucratic process that duplicates the TGA process, delaying access for months.
  • Patients all across Australia, have been left as criminals under unjust State drug laws; parents at the added risk of the intervention of child services, while an untaxed and unregulated black market continues to flourish, costing the states billions in law enforcement, courts, prisons and legal aid costs that are mostly outsourced to private firms.

Patients should be able to access cannabis in a timely manner, and without fear of being arrested and charged under unjust state drug laws.

What the changes mean for patients – Australia wide

The down scheduling of cannabis from Schedule 9 to a Schedule 8 “controlled drug” on 1 November, should have given seriously ill and terminal patients urgent and efficient access to cannabis under Category A of the SAS. But on the same day that cannabis became Schedule 8, the Health Minister made discretionary changes to the Therapeutic Goods Regulations that eliminated the legal rights of seriously ill, terminal and palliative care patients to URGENT access to any form of cannabis under Category A of the SAS. The changes also apply to the personal importation scheme. Now Category A patients must use Category B which needs TGA and State approval.

After doctors obtain mandatory TGA Category B approval, they also need to apply for State approval. The states have classified cannabis as a drug of addiction, and put in extra controls and barriers that do not apply to any other substance including drugs of addiction. Furthermore, the states are also treating patients as if they are drug dependent, for example, in Queensland, doctors do not need State approval to treat patients with any other Schedule 8 controlled substance unless the doctor determines that the patient is drug dependent.

For further information about Category A and B see the TGA’s publication: Access to Unapproved Therapeutic Goods via the Special Access Scheme (Nov 2009).


  • The intentions of Parliament when the Special Access Scheme was introduced in 1991 are very clear – seriously ill and dying patients should be able to access  “…virtually whatever they wish, by way of administration of a drug of which they have learnt..”
  • *It is a patient’s right, in consultation with their doctor, to choose their own treatment, NOT the Government.
  • Patients were able to access Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 nabiximols under Category A before the changes were made.
  • This is discrimination against patients who use cannabis, as this exclusion only applies to cannabis and no other therapeutic good.
  • Cannabis has been used since ancient times. There are decades of modern research evidence from overseas, and that has been used by the Federal Government itself, that show that cannabis is a very safe and effective treatment for a range of conditions.
  • No other country makes patients wait for research trials, or controls unregistered/unapproved cannabis (a botanical product) under a prescription and scheduling model that requires both Federal and State government approval.
  • The cannabis used for the research trials is being exported from countries that allow patients direct access for actual use to treat a range of conditions on the recommendation of their doctor.

Corporate interests and researchers more concerned about their research grants should not stand in the way of patient access.

The Federal and State Governments have gone to great lengths to deny patients access but accommodate and fund research trials on behalf of corporations.

Researchers more concerned about their funding grants have lobbied state Governments to put in place barriers that make access to cannabis almost impossible for patients to obtain. Referring to the NSW state government funded research, Professor Martin from Newcastle University said:

“We certainly don’t want to stop what’s going on at the moment, it’s a great investment. It’s worth waiting to get this right, because once cannabis… is out there in the community it will be harder to get access to research funding  … more rigorous research is needed into medical marijuana before it is rolled out as a therapeutic good.”

Access to cannabis under the SAS and through authorised prescribers will not be sustainable for industry.

When cannabis becomes available for supply from within Australia, access will still be under the SAS or through authorised prescribers. Anyone seeking a cultivation licence must show patient demand which will be very difficult for companies.

Doctors will still need to obtain TGA and State approval, and for example, in Queensland all pharmacists also need to be approved. Doctors also need to report back to both the TGA and Queensland Health on the patients’ progress, and pharmacists need to notify Queensland Health each time they dispense the cannabis.

Medical Cannabis Advisory Group Queensland says:

We want the Government to put patients before profits. We did not support the Federal Government’s commercial pharmaceutical prescription model or the use of the TGA’s exemption pathways as the only avenue of supply.

We have fought hard for the rights of all patients to access cannabis and for an affordable supply from state licenced not for profits, and exemptions from criminal charges under unjust state drug laws.

The Government needs to stop coming between the doctor patient relationship, and get out of the way of patients who, with the support of their doctors are trying to access cannabis as there is sufficient evidence to draw on from overseas to show cannabis to be a very safe and effective therapy for a range of conditions.

This is a very complex issue when it shouldn’t be. Patients with the support of their own doctors should be able to access cannabis in a timely manner, and without fear of being arrested and charged under unjust state drug laws.

Thanks to:

Medical Cannabis Advisory Group
PO Box 77 Fortitude Valley, QLD, 4006