17/02/2017 5:37 AM AEDT | Updated 17/02/2017 9:19 AM AEDT

Australia Should Import Medical Cannabis From Overseas, Bill Shorten Says

Medical cannabis process needs to speed up, Labor leader tells Turnbull.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
The local crop of cannabis for medicinal usage is still being developed.

CANBERRA -- Labor leader Bill Shorten has called on the government to speed up the rollout of medical marijuana products to Australian patients, after meeting a man with a rare neurological condition whose life has been changed since since using cannabis oil.

Shorten wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday, saying he worried there was no "foreseeable" legal domestic supply of medical cannabis, and implored the government to instead look to an overseas supplier until a locally produced crop was available.

"I am concerned that medical cannabis is still not easily available to terminally ill Australians and patients with neurological conditions who we know benefit from it," Shorten wrote.

Jason Reed / Reuters
Opposition leader Bill Shorten wants medical cannabis to be rolled out faster in Australia.

"In the interest of ensuring that patients who benefit from medicinal cannabis have access to a safe, regulated supply of product, I ask you to consider identifying an overseas source and regulating its supply in Australia. This would go some way to ensuring a consistency of supply, giving patients confidence they have access to a safe product, and removing some of the onerous requirements that have emerged through the current arrangements."

"The Opposition would be happy to work with you in supporting any changes necessary to effect this."

Shorten's letter came after he met with Ben Oakley, a young man who has Stiff Person Syndrome. The condition leads to severe muscle spasms, and Oakley said he suffered hundreds of spasms -- including 61 in a nine-hour period -- before accessing medical cannabis. Since then, his spasms have nearly vanished entirely.

The federal government last year passed laws to make medical cannabis legal, but the product is still difficult to access as there is no readily available local supply, and laws vary by jurisdiction in Australia. Recent changes to federal laws have allowed businesses to apply for a licence to produce cannabis for medicinal purposes but the product is not yet available to buy or use. It is currently available to select patients in strictly-controlled trials, and laws are slowly evolving to allow greater access to medical cannabis products, but in the absence of access to the products on a legal prescription basis, Australians have turned to less than legal avenues to secure what they need.

Several people people who have supplied medical cannabis products have been raided by police in recent months, including a woman in South Australia who gave Oakley cannabis oil.

Shorten's letter called on the PM to enact an amnesty for people "who are accessing medical cannabis to treat terminal illness, epilepsy and other serious illness."

Elsewhere on a federal level, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has also taken up the charge to make cannabis products more widely available.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a release that the Government was making progress in making medical cannabis products more readily available.

"Many Australians may not realise that patients can already access medicinal cannabis and its products from overseas via an Authorised Prescriber (doctor) or through the Special Access Scheme B process," Hunt said.

"The Government's medicinal cannabis scheme allows for the safe cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products that will be safe to use and have standardised dosing. It will bring the use of medicinal cannabis products under standard medical care where dose responses and adverse events can be properly monitored and responded to -- just as happens with other medications."

"Work is already underway to have further domestic supplies available and I want to commend the Victorian Government for their efforts to date in working to develop a domestic supply."