The Commonwealth Parliament recently passed legislation to provide Australian patients with access to medicinal cannabis. Amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (Cth) andTherapeutic Goods Act 1989 (Cth) are intended to provide a safe and reliable pathway for legally cultivated cannabis to be used to manufacture medicinal products for the management of painful and chronic conditions. This will see the establishment of a national regulator to monitor the development of such medicines and to ensure the supply-chain remains reliable and free from criminality. 

The Government plans to reclassify possession of such products by placing them in the same category as other restricted drugs such as morphine. Under the new scheme, patients with a valid prescription will be able to possess and use medicinal cannabis where such products have been manufactured from cannabis plants legally cultivated in Australia, and where allowed under relevant state and territory legislation.

While the Commonwealth legislation is designed to allow a national cultivation scheme, and in turn provide reliable supply from the farm to the pharmacy, terminally ill Queensland patients still require legislative changes to make these products more accessible.

As such, the Queensland Government has announced plans to allow for the prescription and dispensation of medicinal cannabis to patients in this state. The Queensland Government intends to establish an expert advisory committee designed to instruct doctors in how to support their patients to obtain approval through the Therapeutic Goods Administration. If the planned Bill, which is currently in draft form, is approved by State Cabinet and passed by the Queensland Parliament, it will provide a formal process for doctors to obtain approval to prescribe medicinal cannabis as part of their patient’s treatment.

Despite these changes to the medicinal cannabis regime, both the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments have stressed such legislation would not amount to a decriminalisation of general cultivation, possession or use of cannabis, which otherwise remains a law enforcement issue within Queensland.