Legislation allowing the cultivation for medicinal or scientific use of cannabis was introduced to parliament on Wednesday, taking chronic pain patients in Australia a step closer to medical marijuana access.
Health Minister Sussan Ley wants the legislation passed in this sitting, optimistic about getting support from numerous fronts.
“This is an important day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products,” Ley said, dubbing plant as the “missing piece in a patient’s journey.”
The government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had worked closely with various states, law enforcement agencies, and other sectors in the last eight weeks to make sure the law passes through parliament, Ley added.
There are existing laws in the country that allow legal manufacturing and distribution of medicinal cannabis products. Australia, however, does not have a legal and dependable supply of locally grown cannabis just like the nationally consistent cultivation scheme promoted by this proposed law, Ley explained.
The health minister harped on the need for a domestic supply, which will also pave the way for research and clinical trials.
The new legislation follows efforts to allow a small group of children afflicted with drug-resistant epilepsy to use a new cannabis-based medication in New South Wales.
Ten children with severe epilepsy – and whose conditions have not improved despite taking anti-epilepsy drugs – will undergo the February trial. By the end of 2016, the trial will be expanded to 60 children, at which time the results of the first of three trial phases will also be released.
The pharmaceutical product Epidiolex is in trial stage and has not yet received full regulatory approval. The government, however, has set March as the target for an official access scheme to start.
Once Australia decides it will treat cannabis similarly with opium, chronic pain patients could be given the drug. Other patients and the general public, though, will have no legal access to cannabis.
Ley clarified that the legislation does not push for the decriminalization of the general cultivation or recreational use of cannabis.
The market for medical marijuana in Australia is substantial, according to MMJ PhytoTech, the nation’s first listed medical marijuana company. Last year, it had its initial public offering, three times oversubscribed.
Gaelan Bloomfield, a manager at MMJ PhytoTech, listed patients with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and the other spectrum of patients with chronic pain as the likely target recipients of the treatment.