Sick and dying Canberrans will be able to access medicinal cannabis safely and legally from 2017 following an ACT Government decision to set up a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme in the territory.
The possession, trafficking and supply of cannabis will remain illegal.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration recently made an interim decision to switch cannabis from schedule 9 (prohibited substance) to schedule 8 (controlled drug) of the Poisons Standard. This will make medicinal cannabis a controlled drug in the ACT when it comes into effect.
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Assistant Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris said the Government was working to develop a considered and consistent framework to support a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme as soon as possible.
“Establishing a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme in the ACT is a priority for the ACT Government, but we need to do it in a way that is evidence-based and that supports people when they are at their most vulnerable,” she said.
“Now the Commonwealth has acted, we can establish a scheme in the ACT that will treat medicinal cannabis products in the same manner as we treat other medicines.”
Ms Fitzharris said the new scheme would establish the territory as a leader in the research and development of cannabis products nationally and provide a framework for the prescription, use and distribution of medicinal cannabis.
“At the moment, there are no clinical guidelines on what types of conditions medicinal cannabis can and should be prescribed for,” the Minister said.
“The ACT Government will develop evidence-based guidelines to inform and support medical practitioners in how to best prescribe medicinal cannabis products. We will also develop education materials for clinicians and the general public to support these guidelines.”
Minister Fitzharris said it was unlikely the ACT would be able to support the production of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“While we are a small jurisdiction and our ability to cultivate and manufacture is limited by our geography, we do have other strengths though, mainly in the research and development sector.
“The University of Canberra has already started a $1 million collaboration with Cann Pharmaceutical to commence a medical-grade cannabis therapy trial for the treatment of melanoma.”
Minister Fitzharris said the Government would appoint two expert advisory committees from across the spectrum of government agencies, non-government agencies, medical specialists and law enforcement to address issues raised by the establishment of a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme.
The Medicinal Cannabis Medical Advisory Panel would advise the Chief Health Officer on development of clinical guidelines and regulations. The Medicinal Cannabis Advisory Group would advise government on economic, legal and social issues related to the introduction of the scheme.
The ACT Government would be joining Victoria, Queensland and NSW in implementing such a scheme.
There was no immediate requirement to amend ACT legislation.
In light of the Government’s decision on the matter, Greens’ Shane Rattenbury has called on the Government to institute an amnesty on those currently using cannabis for medicinal purposes.