Australian Senate Inquiry Recommends Sweeping Changes to Medicinal Cannabis Program

The Committee is pushing for a significant overhaul of the medicinal cannabis system that will radically improve patient access.

A Senate Committee Inquiry into medicinal cannabis in Australia has made a range of landmark recommendations aimed at improving patient access.

The inquiry made 20 recommendations in total, including the inclusion of medicinal cannabis modules in medication education curriculums, online training programs for healthcare providers, allowing practitioners to easily prescribe multiple cannabis products and the introduction of 'compassionate pricing' for patients.

The Community Affairs References Committee inquiry—which was instigated by former Greens Party leader Dr Richard Di Natale—received extensive testimonies from patients throughout Australia who have struggled to access medicinal cannabis due to regulatory issues or obscene pricing.

 We need the Government to acknowledge there's a problem with access and to feel motivated to do something to help the patients that are badly affected. I really hope that they won't keep ignoring this problem. We had to really fight to get this inquiry and that's concerning in the first instance. The work's been done now, a lot of people have made submissions, and I think it's really important the government via the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) listens to those recommendations. United in Passion Co-Founder and Executive Director, Lucy Haslam

While the Inquiry acknowledged that more than 19,000 patients have currently been prescribed medicinal cannabis under the SAS and Authorised Prescriber scheme, there are still an estimated 100,000 Australians who are forced to self-medicate via the black market.

The committee also found that cost is a significant concern for the majority of patients, while healthcare providers' limited knowledge of medicinal cannabis was also flagged as another issue hindrance to the prescription process.

 "From a lack of doctor education to confusion and overlap between the states and the commonwealth, patients are losing out. This unanimous report has recommended a range of changes to the current system to give patients access to these treatments and to give Australia's burgeoning medicinal cannabis industry a fighting chance," Dr Richard Di Natale said.

"Crucially, the Committee has recommended that if the current arrangements are not improved sufficiently enough in 12 months, the government should consider establishing an Independent Regulator of medicinal cannabis.

"The Committee has taken a good look at the system, and we know it's not working. There are a range of changes the government needs to make now, and if they don't fix this mess, the system needs to be overhauled and an Independent Regulator put in place.

One of the biggest issues surrounding the cost of medicinal cannabis is its exclusion from the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS), which allows patients to access medicine at a subsidized cost.

As a result, the Inquiry also recommended that the Federal Government establish a Commonwealth Compassionate Access Subsidy Scheme for medicinal cannabis—until the products become available through PBS—while also encouraging states to expand their own access programs.

If the issues relating to patient access haven't been address within a year, the Committee also recommended that the government introduce a new independent regulator to help drive further legislative change.  

"Cost is a hugely prohibitive factor for many patients. It's completely unacceptable that people can be out of pocket thousands of dollars for trying to access legal medicinal cannabis products through a regulated system when the black market is far cheaper," Di Natale said.

"People should never have to consider breaking the law to access the medical treatments they need, especially when the government claims they support patient access through the appropriate channels."

"That's why the government must urgently subsidise the cost of medicinal cannabis through a compassionate subsidy scheme for medicinal cannabis until these products are made available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule."

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Hugo Gray
Hugo Gray

Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.

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