WA Government Relaxes Medicinal Cannabis Regulations

Medicinal cannabis will now be easier to access in Western Australia, following new changes introduced by the State Government.

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

The State Government in Western Australia (WA) has loosened the rules surrounding medicinal cannabis, allowing doctors to prescribe it without the need for a referral from a specialist.

The move will bring WA into line with other Australian states—such as Victoria, Queensland and NSW—where GPs can prescribe cannabis to patients for conditions that include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.

However, doctors will still be required to seek specialist approval if they are prescribing the drug to children under the age of 16, or to patients who are drug dependant or demonstrate a history of drug abuse.

Whilst the listing of medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is the responsibility of the federal government, it is important for the Commonwealth to have a flexible system that expedites affordable access to new and emerging healthcare treatments.

The Minister for Health, Rodger Cook

"The new changes bring Western Australia closer into line with other states and territories and follow detailed analysis of three years' worth of data by the WA Department of Health," said Health Minister Roger Cook.

While medicinal cannabis has been legal Australia since 2016, Western Australia has lagged behind other states in terms of prescription numbers, with WA doctors only having issued 876 approvals—as of August 2019—since the program began.

The president of the Australian Medical Association WA, Andrew Miller, also supported the state's decision to loosen cannabis restrictions, describing the likelihood that it would lead to doctor shopping as low.

"At this stage, the evidence for this use more widely for things such as nausea or for chronic pain is not very good at all," Miller said.

"We already have quite good drugs for these things … so, we'll need to collect a lot more data and see some proper trials coming forward from the drug companies before we'll be supporting widespread use."

Unfortunately, while medicinal cannabis is becoming more readily available in Australia, it often remains at prohibitively high prices. However, aside from increasing patient access, the change could also lead to further reductions in the price of medicinal cannabis, as an increase in patient access lowers the cost per unit.  

According to FreshLeaf Analytics principal consultant, Rhys Cohen, because the majority of these products are imported, "companies have to pay for export, shipping, importing, warehousing, distribution, and there's a certain minimum spend they have to invest."

"So, if they're moving twice or three times as many units as they previously did, the cost per unit for [the companies] goes down and they can pass that onto consumers in the form of price competition – and consumers get cheaper products."

The Managing Director of WA-based cannabis company Little Green Pharma, Fleta Solomon, also confirmed that the new changes will substantially reduce costs and waiting periods for patients living in WA.

"We applaud the WA Health Minister [Roger Cook] for implementing this streamlined policy and are confident it will make a huge difference to WA patients, who have previously been disadvantaged by the state's time consuming and costly access process."

"When considering many using medicinal cannabis products have serious illnesses and are sometimes financially strained, the previous access regime unnecessarily added a number of months and additional costs to the process," Solomon said.

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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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