Although the ACT has a legal Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, there are concerns that current arrangements are not working effectively to support patients.
Greens spokesperson for Drug Law Reform, Shane Rattenbury, said they are proposing a change to ACT cannabis law to assist people suffering serious illness to have easier access to cannabis for medicinal use.
The proposal is just one of the amendments suggested by the Greens to the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill“to make it more workable in practice”.
In terms of access, Mr Rattenbury said the current system involves multiple layers of approval through both ACT Health and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and, as currently designed, makes accessing medicinal cannabis so difficult that many patients simply give up.
He said the Greens are bringing an amendment forward to allow for people with medical cannabis to possess greater quantities.
“People who are being prescribed cannabis need to have certainty they can have a supply, that’s why we have proposed to increase the limits for someone who has a prescription for medical cannabis as opposed to the uses for recreational practices,” he said.
For Laura Bryant, medicinal cannabis has made a significant difference to her quality of life. She uses cannabis oil to manage endometriosis and an auto-immune inflammatory arthritis condition. Prior to the treatment she said she was “not independent and I was on a very large dose of opiate medication for pain relief”.
Legally prescribed cannabis for the past six months, Ms Bryant recently ran out of oil, yet despite a current script, said she can’t access it in Canberra.
She said there are two main issues with the current system – accessibility and education.
“It was exactly the medicine I needed,” she said. “Accessing cannabis on the black market you don’t actually know what you are receiving and the plant is so complex that everything plays a different role in treatment.”
Senior lecturer at ANU, and author of the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Course, Dr David Caldicott said the ACT Government should be applauded for taking an innovative approach to drug policy but that it is important not to confuse the medical and recreational market.
Dr Caldicott said companies that grow medicinal cannabis produce a product that is always the same so “you can weigh it and provide a dose”, however there is considerable variability to homegrown cannabis.
“If you render adult use cannabis much more available you don’t know what patients are using … that’s problematic,” he said.
Overall, Dr Caldicott said the current medicinal cannabis scheme in Australia is a “train wreck” compared to nearly any other jurisdiction. He said Australia is one of the only countries in the world that has tried to regulate cannabis through pre-existing structures.
“We still see people turning to the black market for therapeutic cannabis because the system across Australia is not fit for purpose,” Dr Caldicott said. “I think there will be a day Australia returns to the drawing board because the current setup federally is untenable.”