States & Territories: General

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A single-purpose ‘Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis’ proposed in a Bill moved by the Senate in 2014 would, if enacted, have created a single, national body with blanket responsibility for all things medicinal cannabis, including the regulation of its production, transport, storage and usage (for medicinal purposes) throughout the whole of Australia.


States and Territories would thus have been in conformity upon the issue (and the need to explore each in turn probably made unnecessary) because just one specially created organisation would have developed frameworks for dealing with all requisite licensing – not just at the production end but also for governing access to the drug by patients and doctors as well.


Such plans however did not come to pass; the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act was the Australian Parliament’s response to the Senate’s ‘Regulator’ Bill following a Report and Recommendations from the Senate’s Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs which held a Public Inquiry in the first quarter of 2014 in order to look into the matter.


That Inquiry, with its various submissions, both oral and written, helped shape what eventually became the current legislative and regulatory position. For reference purposes its significance can’t be sufficiently stressed, because it is here, more than anywhere else, the many arguments and differences of opinion about the subject are so vividly defined; it is therefore explored in some detail within these pages of this website.


The outcome of the Committee’s findings and subsequent legislation was that responsibility for medicinal cannabis would be shared between the Government’s existing Regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, a newly-created sister organisation to the TGA called the Office of Drug Control and States and Territories themselves. In effect then, three Regulators, rather than one, would be involved in managing matters when it came to what would soon be referred to as the ‘Commonwealth Medicinal Cannabis Initiative.’


The run-up to this and some of the legal and regulatory issues involved are discussed in the ‘History and General Background‘ section of this site, and also on an encapsulated time-line provided by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) but the final result, and the position currently, which came into effect on 1st November 2016, is not what many had sought.


Some had been campaigning hard for a national organisation to run by experts within the field and to take charge and oversee all aspects of cannabis for medical use so as to avoid a ‘postcode lottery’ of where and how the drug might be obtained – and for a number of people, it had become clear, this was a life or death matter.


Moreover, the proposed new body would have by-passed the Commonwealth’s existing regulatory processes altogether, viewing cannabis as an exceptional case and, like a handful of other countries had done, acting toward it accordingly.


But this was not to be – a postcode lottery does seem to have eventuated together with the unlikely (?) outcome that some States appear to be vying for pre-eminence in the areas of production, clinical research and ‘compassionate’ use of the drug.


Even so, the stringent Regulations both for growers and manufacturers  laid down by the Federal Government in effect make cannabis medicines all but completely unavailable.


In practical terms, and broadly speaking, the Office of Drug Control was made responsible for issuing medicinal cannabis licences and permits for those wishing to grow the herb for medical or research purposes once the applicant satisfied the Office it would be ‘for supply either to a person licensed to produce cannabis or a person licensed to manufacture medicinal cannabis products.’ Regulations pertaining to this were published in late in October 2016 and in addition, further licences would be required at State and Territory Levels.


States and Territories AND the Therapeutic Goods Administration would be responsible for determining who would be eligible for cannabis medicines, with two TGA ‘pathways’ available, the ‘Special Access Scheme‘ and the ‘Authorised Prescribers Scheme‘ which, under certain circumstances, provide access to products not registered with the TGA as medicines in Australia – a route that had always been possible, even without the 2016 legislation.


But the Government has changed the rules on this too, leading to a petition by the Medical Cannabis Advisory Group of Queensland which is trying to help secure urgent access to the drug for patients receiving palliative care.


For those manufacturing cannabis products  ODC licences and permits would also required together with another licence – a Good Manufacturing Practice Licence – from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. And those hoping to get official approval and registration for a cannabis medicine would be obliged to put their product through a rigorous, long-winded and costly evaluation by the TGA. The process itself is discussed in the ‘History & Background‘ section of the site and the arguments for and against having to do so for cannabis and cannabis products are, as mentioned above, discussed in the the Public Inquiry (Arguments for and Against) section.


A basic overview of what the Government has in mind has recently been posted to the TGA website and is also explained in a slideshow presentation by the Authority of October 2016.


States and Territories meanwhile, with whom the Government says it widely consulted, were also left with the responsibility of further, local licensing of cannabis production within their jurisdictions as well as deciding for whom and for what purpose as well as which types of cannabis product could be accessed, as we have already said.


Each State and Territory has its own story too, in terms of the medical cannabis journey (and indeed of cannabis generally) so these are considered in turn on the respective pages within this site section, each concluding with a summary of the current situation.


A good (brief) summary of the position is provided by TV journalist Helen Kapalos on her website about the self-financed documentary A Life Of Its Own, released in October 2016.


And an article from the The Australian Cannabis Law Reform Movement on the NimbinAustralia website provides an excellent and well referenced backdrop to ‘the history, laws and International Treaties’ pertaining to cannabis use generally in this country. Titled ‘Cannabis In An Australian Context’, the piece covers such matters as a history of cannabis, definitions of what the stuff actually is, the development of international agreements both past and current, the many various inquiries and reviews on the subject (almost always completely ignored) plus a breakdown of Australian and overseas laws and how they developed from around the late 1800s on.


The article referred to obviously discusses the legal aspects of cannabis prior to enactment of the 2016 Narcotic Drug Amendment Act which permitted the cultivation of the herb for medicinal and research purposes in Australia for the first time in over 50 years; it is cited so as to contextualise what States and Territories were doing prior to the Act before exploring how they handle things now.


But as the Medical Cannabis Advisory Group of Queensland say in their petition (in November 2016) ‘there is still no lawful supply of cannabis available in Australia as the Federal Government has not granted any cultivation or manufacturing licences.’