The Turnbull government expects to pass legislation today that will allow cannabis to be grown legally for medical and scientific purposes. The legislation is designed to create a reliable and safe supply of the plant for sufferers of chronic pain and illnesses such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Cannabis derived drugs are currently available only on the black market, but this has been slated for change since the Victorian Government announced in October that medicinal marijuana is to be available statewide from 2017 onwards. Other states including NSW have signalled their intention to follow suite, but all require legislative approval from the Federal Government.
This approval requires a few amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967. Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley is leading the charge, and expects full backing of the Labor Party and the Greens, both who have signalled their support. Assuming there are no unexpected roadblocks, this "missing piece" of legislation will be passed and Australia will be ready to nationally regulate weed.
As Ms Ley wrote in a statement circulated by her office, creating regulation at a federal level is a much better solution than allowing state governments to create a series of nationally inconsistent frameworks. As she wrote, "[This] will not only help speed up the legislative and regulatory process, but ultimately access to medicinal cannabis products as well."
But the announcement isn't without its critics. In a statement released last night Australian Greens Leader Dr Richard Di Natale cautiously welcomed the announcement, but added: "This bill does nothing to change the fact that cannabis is scheduled as an illegal drug that cannot be prescribed by a doctor."
"Creating a national framework for cultivation and manufacture is an important step but the final test for any reform is whether it will get this medicine in the hands of everyone who needs it," the statement says.
Even so, the past six months has seen a proliferation of domestic start-ups and foreign enterprises awaiting Australia's regulatory green light. This includes large, established marijuana companies from Israel, Canada, Holland, and several US states eyeing off Australia as a burgeoning marketplace. As Andreas Gedeon, Managing Director of Israeli/Canadian company MMJ Phytotech, told VICE, "We've spent considerable time putting systems and logistics into place so as soon as Australia is ready, we can start supplying."
For Victoria, medicinal marijuana will most likely be supplied by state growers in a way that's similar to Tasmania's production of opium poppies. In this arrangement companies such as MMJ will be importing seeds and processes from overseas, but growing locally. Other states are expected to implement similar strategies.
Health Minister Sussan Ley is also pushing for changes to the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 to allow cannabis products to distributed and sold through pharmacies. Three months ago we spoke to Tony Bower, director of Mullaways Medical Cannabis, who was selling tinctures to ill patients on the black market. At the time he expressed concern that formalising the market through pharmacies would cut him out. Now he seems to have changed his mind.
"[This] will definitely help," he told us this morning. "We've been working through getting licences and stuff with the [Therapeutic Goods Administration] already but this will definitely help make it easier for us to move forward." Tony also agreed with the Health Minister's sentiment that this "this is an important day for Australia." "It's movement," he said. "That in itself is the start to help a lot of sick people who really need this."