Queensland is a State claiming to be blazing a cannabis trail in Australia with Health Minister Cameron Dick calling it ‘unique in terms of the flexibility it affords Queenslanders to apply for approval to use (such) products.’ It is also the only state in which a ‘diversion programme’ (i.e. counselling etc.) must be offered to first time (illicit) cannabis offenders who are subject to the Drugs Misuse Act 1986 and the Drugs Misuse Regulations also of 1987 – the latter listing cannabis as a Schedule 2 substance along with morphine, pethidine and ketamine.
An view of where the State sits generally is provided in an Australian Cannabis Law Reform Movement article on the NimbinAustralia website with its excellent and well referenced backdrop to ‘the history, laws and International Treaties’ pertaining to the herb’s use throughout the country, including, obviously, in Queensland.
A Bill – the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill was introduced to the State Parliament in May 2016 when it was also noted by the Health Minister that ‘on 11 December 2015, Queensland became the first state in Australia to legalise the use of restricted medicinal cannabis products.’
He was referring to Sativex, the only cannabis medication to have been approved by the Federal Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration and while this, the Minister said, was ‘an important first step to permit the lawful use of medicinal cannabis products, a more comprehensive and robust regulatory framework is required.’ The new Bill, he claimed, would achieve this.
Passed into law in October 2016, the Act, in the words of the Queensland Health Department, ‘creates a new regulatory framework to allow medicinal cannabis products to be prescribed and dispensed to patients in Queensland and prevent unauthorised use of these products,’ and ‘provides a formalised process for doctors to follow if they want approval to prescribe medicinal cannabis as part of their patient’s overall treatment.’
But it also means patients requiring or doctors wishing to prescribe cannabis not only need to get approval from the Federal Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration through either its Special Access Scheme or Authorised Prescribers Scheme but also from Queensland Health – a move some people have criticised.
The Bill was tabled after a Public Inquiry the previous July (2016). It was, like its counterparts in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and at Federal level during the Government’s exploration of the proposed Senate Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill, a debate between the medical, academic and pharmaceutical ‘Establishment’ and those working (and thinking) outside it.
Had the ‘Regulator’ Bill been enacted, the variance between jurisdictions may have been avoided but this was not to be. Replacement legislation, the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act ensured responsibility would be shared between the Federal Department of Health via its twin organisations the Therapeutic Goods Administration & Office of Drug Control as well as States & Territories.
Around 70 public submissions were made in Queensland as well as evidence received in two public hearings on, respectively, 17th and 29th August, and as mentioned, complaints were made and legal action threatened about the Bill duplicating existing regulations by laying an additional, though similar, tier atop the Government’s Special Access Scheme and Authorised Prescriber Scheme.
And the two Schemes themselves are the subject of a petition to the Federal Government by the above-mentioned Medical Cannabis Advisory Group which says Canberra has ‘shifted the goal posts’ making it impossible for those in urgent need of the drug to obtain it. ‘There is still no lawful supply of cannabis available in Australia as the Federal Government has not granted any cultivation or manufacturing licences,’ the Group says.
Two Queensland families were also receiving significant publicity over their illegal but, they felt, entirely necessary use of medicinal cannabis, and one of them, Lanai Carter (one of the Advisory Group founders) provided submissions both to the Queensland Inquiry and the Federal Government’s at which she also gave evidence.
Ms Carter and her son Lindsay gained prominence locally after protesting outside Queensland Health Department in March 2016 because Lindsay could not access the medical cannabis needed to treat complications from a brain tumour. Queensland’s ‘new processes’ she said, were delaying access since they were being implemented in readiness for the new Bill.
Jai, it transpired, had been refused access to cannabis via the TGA’s Special Access Scheme and the Australian Medical Association threatened to report his parents for treating him with it. At nine years old he had suffered for years with a rare form of epilepsy experiencing seizures every few minutes which cannabis had stopped completely. His use of a high CBD-content oil had begun in mid-2015 and by July 2016 he’d been seizure-free for a year. Jai’s mother Michelle gave evidence to the Victoria Law Reform Commission’s Public Consultation on medical cannabis and in January 2015 was an organiser of a medical cannabis march and rally in Brisbane.
Queensland politicians claimed stories like those of Lindsay & Lanai Carter and Jai Whitelaw had moved them to pass the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill and the State – like NSW – has also announced clinical trials in conjunction with the UK-based firm GW Pharmacuticals, the makers of Sativex to test their new product Epidiolex on children with intractable epilepsy.
Queensland Health has also produced a lengthy application form for doctors to complete, which asks, among many other things for patient approval from the TGA (along with full copy of TGA application), details of patient’s health condition and why the drug is being prescribed, details of the TGA approved products, ‘supporting clinical or research evidence of the use of those products for the treatment of the nominated conditions‘ and concludes ‘if you are not choosing to dispense the medicinal cannabis from your practice – you will need to nominate an approved pharmacist to undertake this dispensing and supply.’
As we have noted, the State also has its own advocacy/pressure group, Medical Cannabis Queensland, co-run by Ms Carter.
But in April 2016 the Brisbane Times reported organisations – including another lobbying group, the Medical Cannabis Users Association Australia – were protesting at the Queensland Government’s plan to toughen penalties for cannabis offences and at the ineffectiveness of the Public Health Bill.