SICK Australians with some of the worst ailments will no longer wait months for relief or be forced to turn to the black market to access medicinal cannabis with the government green-lighting the legal sale of marijuana products for medical use in Australia.
Health Minister Greg Hunt will on Wednesday announce companies will be permitted to apply to distribute cannabis oils and medications locally, establishing an immediate legal marijuana trade.
News Corp Australia understands the government has been actively discussing the issue with half a dozen companies who are ready to distribute immediately.
Last year the federal parliament passed laws to legalise medicinal cannabis use in Australia for patients with painful and chronic illnesses.
Those include cancer patients, HIV sufferers and people with severe epilepsy, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis, among others. However the rules vary from state to state as to approved conditions and ages.
Patients desperately wanting access to the drug for relief currently require a letter from their GP or an approved prescriber.
Due to no available legal market in Australia, until now they were forced to import medicinal cannabis products from overseas or turn to the black market. Importation from overseas often meant cannabis products were unable to be received for months due to regulatory paperwork and compliance. Patients were also forced to obtain an importation permit for each specific importation from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the announcement would mean the wait was over for the sickest Australians.
“We have listened to the concerns of patients and their families that are having difficulty accessing the product while domestic production becomes available,” Mr Hunt told News Corp Australia.
“We are now making it easier to access medicinal cannabis, while still maintaining strict safeguards for individual and community safety. As part of these changes, importers can source medicinal cannabis products from a reputable supplier overseas and store these in a safe, secure warehouse in Australia.
“This will be an effective interim national inventory to be provided through approved imports. These imports will improve the timeliness of supply while work continues on establishing the domestic cultivation and manufacture scheme.”
Labor said it had been calling for interim measures for a while.
Opposition Health spokeswoman Catherine King said the government had been too slow to act in this area.
“Frankly, the Government has been very slow to implement the medicinal cannabis scheme,” Ms King said.
“We wrote to the government just last week asking that they put in place interim measures to help patients access medicinal cannabis until a domestic supply comes on stream. The government needs to do more to help Australians get the relief they need.”
Heath Kratzer, 44, from Medicinal Cannabis Australia said he feared allowing companies to import cannabis from overseas would drive prices up.
He said the government had too many regulations on medicinal cannabis importation and use, instead of just focusing on how much it would help sick people.
“(Since last year) I’ve heard there has only been 26 applications to import cannabis products from overseas and none of them have even managed to get through because it’s such a hard and complicated process,” he said.
“I have at least two or three emails a day from people saying how badly they need access to medicinal cannabis products. That they have to resort to the underground market for it.”
The announcement comes after the first marijuana crops were this week green-lit for research purposes.
Medicinal crops have still not been approved but a total of 14 licenses are under active consideration, the first of which are likely to be approved within weeks.
Recreational growth and use of cannabis is still illegal with state-based criminal laws in place.