The Federal Government will seek parliamentary support to allow the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes, while the Labor Party will today also announce its own separate policy on medical marijuana.
Health Minister Sussan Ley said the Government was currently in the process of finalising draft amendments to the Narcotics Drugs Act 1967 to allow the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. The legislation is expected to be introduced into parliament by the end of the year. If the changes are passed, a process to licence controlled cultivation will begin in 2016, and medicinal cannabis crops could be in use by 2017.
The Government will also create a Commonwealth licensing scheme within the Department of Health.
“This Government is incredibly sympathetic to the suffering of those Australians with debilitating illnesses and we want to enable access to the most effective medical treatments available,” Ms Ley said in a statement.
“Currently there are already systems in place to licence the manufacture and supply of medicinal cannabis-based products in Australia, however there is no mechanism to allow the production of a safe, legal and sustainable local supply.
“This has meant Australian patients, researchers and manufacturers have had to try to access international supplies of legal medicinal cannabis crops and products, but limited supplies and export barriers in other countries have made this difficult.”
Ms Ley said it was important to make clear the announcement was not a debate about the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use, nor was it a discussion about making medicinal cannabis products available over the counter without it being first prescribed through a doctor or clinical trial.
“At the end of the day, cannabis is classified as an illegal drug in Australia for recreational use and we have no plans to change that,” Ms Ley said.
Labor leader Bill Shorten announced on Friday evening that the opposition also supported similar changes.
NSW Minister for Medical Research Pru Goward welcomed the news.
“We believe the approach the Federal Government is taking is sensible, measured and demonstrates forward thinking,” Ms Goward said.
“We do not want patients or carers having to play pharmacist, this collaborative approach ensures we have a way forward. It is important to get the scheme right. We look forward to further consultation occurring with other state and territory governments, this is an issue that is beyond politics.”
The Government would closely manage the supply of medicinal cannabis products from “farm to pharmacy”, she said, and it would be done in conjunction with necessary state or territory regulations.
Ms Ley said the Government’s draft amendments would address structural issues identified in the proposed cross-party bill by a recent Senate committee report and hoped they would help progress the matter through Parliament.
The Government will consult with the Greens, Labor, Crossbench and states and territories on the draft amendments to Australia’s Narcotic Drugs Act before bringing a final version to Parliament by the end of the year.
Cultivation in Australia without amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act will see Australia in breach of the international Convention, Ms Ley said.
The Commonwealth licensing scheme will set out the obligations and legislative framework requirements for states and territories looking to set up agricultural industries around the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes.
The registration of new medicinal cannabis products would also continue to be regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), in the same way other new medical drugs and devices were.