Medical cannabis will be available for sale in Australia in a matter of weeks, after the Federal Government approved plans to let domestic companies sell the products.
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on Wednesday that the Government would allow certain companies in Australia to import medical cannabis from overseas, and sell it to patients who have been prescribed the product by their doctor. Currently patients can access medical cannabis from overseas sources, but Hunt said access was on a case-by-case basis and required patients to wait many weeks for the drug to arrive.
The new scheme allows companies to import bulk loads of medical cannabis and sell directly to those who need it, meaning patients no longer have to wait for their own product to arrive. Australia is currently growing its own crops of cannabis for medical use -- just yesterday the Victorian government announced its first harvest had been completed -- but it will not be ready for some time.
"We will authorise controlled importation by approved providers from approved international sources for interim supply in Australia, until domestic production meets local needs," Hunt said in a statement.
"At present, doctors approved to supply medicinal cannabis products must import the product as local production is only starting to be developed following the passage of legislation to allow domestic production late last year."
"As part of these changes, importers will be able to source medicinal cannabis products from a reputable supplier overseas and store these in a safe, secure warehouse in Australia. This will be an effective interim supply to be provided through approved commercial importers."
Patients who have conditions including severe epilepsy, cancer and other chronic or painful illnesses are able to access medical cannabis already under federal schemes.
"Patients who have been prescribed medicinal cannabis by an authorised doctor will be able to source the medication from a company in Australia -- rather than on an individual case-by-case basis from overseas which involves delays in importation," Hunt said.
"This will shorten timeframes to the supply of medicinal cannabis for patients."
Such an import scheme was called for by Labor leader Bill Shorten last week.
Hunt said the Department of Health had already contacted "a number of companies that are interested, or potentially interested, in supplying the Australian market with product". Earlier this week, the Office of Drug Control granted its first official cannabis licence.
"It is expected that within eight weeks, possibly sooner, Australia will have a store of imported medicinal cannabis products so that approved patients can have greater confidence in the supply arrangements for their doctors" he said.
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