The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 was passed in both houses of parliament on Wednesday, paving the way for medical marijuana in Australia.
While Australia already has laws surrounding the import and exports of cannabis products, growing and distributing medical marijuana here isn't legal. The bill is very specific, establishing "licensing and permit schemes for the cultivation and production [in Australia] of cannabis and cannabis resin for medicinal and scientific purposes."
Today's debate in the Senate was overwhelmingly in favour of the bill. Some senators spoke of the positive impacts medical marijuana had on people in their electorates, many of whom had to risk jail to obtain cannabis treatment. At one point Tasmania Labor senator Anne Urquhart became visibly emotional as she recounted the experience of a mother from the state's north west coast trying to get treatment for her young daughter April.
"April suffers from Dravet syndrome that causes her more than 1000 seizures a day," the senator explained. "At their wits end Jessie and her partner Paul turned to cannabis oil in an attempt to contain April's attacks.
"It wouldn't be an overstatement to describe April's turn around as miraculous. With her attacks dropping from triple digits to as few as six."
Health minister Sussan Ley, who had first tabled the bill, also thanked those who had campaigned for legalisation. "I would particularly like to acknowledge the many patient advocates who have played a tremendous and tireless role in bringing this important issue to the attention of the nation," she said.
Minister Ley also announced the establishment of a national regulator, which will "closely track the development of cannabis products for medicinal use from cultivation to supply and curtail any attempts by criminals to get involved."
The Greens have been pushing the Therapeutic Goods Administration to consider reclassifying medical marijuana, as it is currently a Schedule 9 drug, alongside heroin and ice. "Cannabis, as the law now stands, is an illegal drug," Greens leader Richard Di Natale said during the Senate session. Following today's debate Minister Ley confirmed the government would be down-scheduling the drug to Schedule 8, a "Controlled Drug," where it will join fentanyl, methadone, and oxycodone.
"This is an historic day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products so genuine patients are no longer treated as criminals," Minister Ley said.
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