As we have seen, a single, national body with blanket responsibility for all things medicinal cannabis, from production through to registration of products and access by doctors and patients would probably have relieved States and Territories from much, if not all of the regulatory burdens they now face.
The Senate’s Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill of 2014 had proposed to create such an entity but instead, in February 2016, after a Public Inquiry into the Bill by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, that Bill was replaced by the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act which came into effect on 1st November 2016.
It meant cannabis products would be forced through existing regulatory processes governed by the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and overseen by the Federal Government’s powerful Therapeutic Goods Administration – the Government Department that both controls and regulates access to to existing, registered medicines and, via a rigorous, costly and time-consuming registration process, decides which new medical products reach the Australian market.
A new sister organisation to the TGA, called the Office of Drug Control was also established to allocate licenses and permits – with onerous qualifications placed upon applicants – for the cultivation of the herb and also the manufacture of products from it.
States and Territories would provide a second tier of licensing for local cultivation and access by patients and doctors and needing to adhere to national and state-level legislation and regulation.
In South Australia cannabis generally is governed by the 1984 Controlled Substances Act under which the penalty for possession, smoking or consumption of small quantities of cannabis or cannabis resin is a maximum of $500.
Like some other States, SA also has, since 1987, a scheme giving discretion to issue a Cannabis Expiation Notice which requires payment of an ‘on the spot’ fine for ‘simple’ cannabis offences allowing an individual to avoid prosecution in court, leading some to argue the State is among the most lenient in terms of general use of cannabis.
It was also responsible for a Royal Commission (the Sackville Royal Commission) into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in 1978 which discussed cannabis in some depth. It recommended, among other things, its legal cultivation and possession in small amounts, but like so many of its counterparts before and after within Australia, the suggestions went almost completely ignored.
South Australia’s place in the cannabis scheme of things nationally can be found in the Australian Cannabis Law Reform Movement’s 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 generally throughout the country, including, obviously, South Australia.
Where medicinal cannabis is concerned, the State has no plans to act until clinical trials have been completed in NSW.
The issue gained prominence after an ABC news story in May 2016 discussed the plight of a family whose two children suffer from a chronic lung disease which the drug helped relieve and in which the Government was accused of ‘sitting on its hands’.
Further reports in 2015 such as this from the Adelaide Advertiser quoted Health Minister Jack Snelling as saying the Government ‘supported the NSW trials which it would closely monitor and cooperate as required’, but adding there were ‘no current plans to start a separate trial or replicate here in SA what NSW is already doing.’
Currently the SA Health Website says, among other things:
‘Once all necessary national changes have been made by the Australian Government, South Australian laws will allow medicinal cannabis to be prescribed by certain specialist doctors and dispensed by pharmacists.
The South Australian Government will work with medical practitioners and other experts to develop the details of an access scheme that is evidence-based and gives patients safe and legal access to high quality medicinal cannabis products.
The Government of South Australia does not have a role in issuing licences for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis’.
In October 2016 however, Adelaide newspaper InDaily reported the Government was ‘throwing its weight behind’ a SA company – Australian Cannabis Corp – which wished to grow the herb although this deteriorated into a row when company founder Ben Fizsimons told the paper in early December the State had suggested he look elsewhere, a claim the Government quickly denied.