In another milestone for the medicinal marijuana movement, Australia's first state-grown cannabis crop has been successfully harvested. The Victorian government announced this morning that its mature cannabis plants are now being tested and formulated prior to being used as treatment for their intended trial patient group—a cohort of children suffering from severe epilepsy.
Overseen by a specialist government committee, this first batch of cannabis extract will be tested and then manufactured pharmaceutically into a safe and certified epilepsy treatment later this year. It will be the first legal medicinal cannabis product to be legally available in Australia.
In a media statement, the Victorian government said it was "getting on with establishing a reliable, safe production pipeline for the supply of high quality medicinal cannabis for Victorian patients."
Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy was optimistic about the benefits the harvested crop would bring to its patients. "We promised Victorians they would be able to access this life-changing treatment and every day brings us one step closer to delivering on this Australian first commitment," she said.
"We have seen time and time again the difference medicinal cannabis can make to the lives of very sick children."
Victoria became the first state in Australia to legalise medicinal cannabis in April 2016, as the smug media release was eager to point out. It's worth noting though that Victoria's efforts have been eclipsed in recent months by other state governments enacting more flexible cannabis laws that will benefit a larger pool of patients.
In Queensland, for example, new legislation coming into force next month will allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for a much wider variety of people suffering from certain medical conditions. The state's more flexible set of laws will allow specialist doctors (like oncologists) to prescribe medicinal cannabis without state approval, and GPs will be able to apply for permission to do so.
And in New South Wales, patients can be assessed by an expert panel before getting access to medicinal cannabis treatment via the state's Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulations.
Still, Victoria can definitely lay claim to the first state-harvested cannabis crop, which would have seemed like an impossible feat even a couple of years ago. And given that other states have been slow to apply for medicinal marijuana licences, it's going to be difficult to access medicinal weed no matter you are in Australia—especially as it doesn't yet fall under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
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