The Australian government has indicated it plans to legalise the growth of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes.
On Saturday, Health Minister Sussan Ley announced her party would propose a change to the Narcotics Drugs Act, which would allow for “controlled cultivation” of the plant in Australia. She said the move would help the government regulate the safety and supply of the drug for those in medical need.
Ley said in a statement the government was sympathetic to those with serious medical conditions who could benefit from the relief provided by medical cannabis.
“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,” she said. “This has meant Australian patients, researchers and manufacturers have had to try to access international supplies of legal medicinal cannabis crops and products.”
— Sussan Ley (@sussanley) October 17, 2015
She added the product should be subject to the same regulations as other pharmaceuticals. “I’m sure Australians would be concerned if we allowed medicinal cannabis products to be subject to lower safety standards than common prescription painkillers or cholesterol medications,” she said.
The push to allow access to medical cannabis in Australia has been gathering momentum. Lucy Haslam, a retired nurse and a campaigner for medicinal cannabis legalisation, wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian on Thursday she had given her son cannabis to help with the pain associated with his bowel cancer. “The uncomplicated fact is that cannabis improves the lives of thousands of very sick and suffering Australians,” she said.
A petition she started on Change.org to decriminalise the use of medicinal cannabis has gained more than 246,500 supporters.
The proposed amendment is likely to pass parliament, given both the Australian Greens and Labor have previously indicated their support for medical cannabis.
However, leader of the Australian Greens, Richard Di Natale, said the government’s proposal was too limited as it did not go far enough in helping those in need to access the drug. “The government’s announcement today removes barriers to growing medical cannabis in Australia but does nothing to remove the bureaucratic barriers that will prevent it from being approved so it can be prescribed like any other medicine,” he said in a statement.
— GreensMPs (@GreensMPs) October 16, 2015
Some Australian states, including New South Wales, have committed to clinical trials to explore the use of cannabis in providing medical relief. In December 2014, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he hoped to legalise medical marijuana in his state by the end of 2015.
A number of Australia-based companies are already participating in the trade. In August, Australian medical cannabis company MMJ PhytoTech Limited sold its first batch of marijuana pills in Europe, although due to Australia’s prohibition, they were not available locally.
The health minister said there were no plans to legalise the drug for recreational use. Medical marijuana is not federally legal in Australia, but some states, such as New South Wales, allow those with a terminal illness to register so that police can use their discretion not to charge them or their caregivers for their use of cannabis.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.