Why Are Tasmania's Weed Laws so Strict?

Australia's marijuana laws vary from state-to-state, but in Tasmania, the laws surrounding cannabis are undeniably strict. Find out about Tasmania's weed legalization here.

While Australia is taking some serious strides when it comes to medical marijuana – with patient numbers increasing tenfold in 2019 alone – some states are seriously lagging behind the others; namely Tasmania.

In fact, Tasmania is lagging behind other states so severely that in a recent senate inquiry into the barriers facing the medicinal cannabis landscape in Australia, the Senate Committee stated:

"The committee recommends that the Tasmanian Government immediately join all other jurisdictions in participating in the Therapeutic Goods Administration's single national online application pathway for accessing unregistered medicinal cannabis and reducing state-based requirements for medicinal cannabis approval."

Though what exactly does this mean?

TGA's Special Access Scheme Portal

Cannabis is a controlled substance in Australia, falling under the schedule 8 classification. This means that in all states other than the Australian Capital Territory, cannabis possession without authority is an offense.

In order to ascertain this authority, doctors were previously required to fill out a mountain of paperwork, while also seeking approval from federal and state authorities. This would then begin a dialogue between doctors and the Therapeutic Goods Administration, who would question the doctor's justification for wanting to prescribe medicinal cannabis. This was a lengthy and undesirable process and resulted in an obstacle course of red tape for patients seeking to gain access to medical marijuana products.

Understandably, the public was not satisfied with how difficult it was to get medical cannabis, and eventually, legislators listened and enacted a drastic policy change. This policy change came in the form of an online portal for the Special Access Scheme applications, which coordinated most of the States and Territories in order to streamline applications.

SASB Approvals

At the State/Territory level, New South Wales even went a step further and reduced the processing time for Schedule 8 authority requests to 48 hours in March 2018. This was followed by Queensland in April 2019, who similarly amended their patient access process making it easier for doctors to write prescriptions.

This catalyzed an exponential rise in patient prescription numbers, with QLD going from 284 approvals in February to 1,311 approvals in August 2019 – A 361% increase. Over the same time period, NSW went from 246 to 739, representing a 200% increase.

All of this is very positive stuff, but you're probably wondering, what does this have to do with Tasmania?

Medical Cannabis Laws in Tasmania – The Odd One Out

As the recent senate inquiry into barriers facing the Australian medical cannabis landscape outlined, Tasmania is now the only state which doesn't utilize the online, expedited and simplified application process that is SAS-B Portal route.

As a result, Tasmania's medical cannabis prescriptions are seriously lagging, as is their latest information. The most recent patient data available says that as of November 2018, only seven patients have been prescribed medicinal cannabis products.

To put this number in perspective, Althea Group Holdings, one of Australia's leading medical cannabis companies, is prescribing between 500-600 patients across the country every single month.

By not adopting the online SAS-B Portal method, Tasmanian patients who desperately need medical cannabis products have largely been unable to do so.

One of these patients was Jeremy Bester, a 28-year-old Tasmanian man who suffered from severe refractory epilepsy. Jeremy began using cannabis as a treatment in 2014 as a last resort when all other medicines had proved ineffective, and to his and his mother's surprise, cannabis use resulted in an immense improvement in Jeremy's condition. This prompted Jeremy's mother, Lyn Cleaver, to begin purchasing the plant online, and eventually, growing it herself.

Ms. Cleaver gained firsthand insight into the difficulties that arise when trying to follow the legal route to be prescribed cannabis in Tasmania, as her applications have been rejected on numerous occasions. Moreover, even if she were approved, she would be looking at a "$60,000 to $100,000 annual price tag for a legal prescription for Jeremy" while her home-grown method "costs as little as $20 per week."

The Future of Medicinal Marijuana in Tasmania

In the hopes of alleviating some of these difficulties for other patients such as her son, Ms. Cleaver contributed a submission to the recent Senate inquiry in order to get the ball rolling and improve Tasmania's medical cannabis program. This seems to have worked, as the Senate Committee has since tabled their recommendations to improve Australia's medical cannabis scheme, with one of their recommendations being that Tasmania jump aboard the Special Access Scheme online portal.

It seems that most Tasmanians agree with Lyn Cleaver, as was revealed in a 2018 telephone poll of more than 1,100 Tasmanians which found that 59% of respondents supported legalizing recreational marijuana.

Additionally, the fact that the Senate Committee has tabled a recommendation solely focused on improving Tasmania's medical cannabis program shows that legislators are listening to the needs and wants of the public and those suffering from a lack of access to medical marijuana programs. While the mere tabling of a recommendation isn't a concrete promise that action will follow, it is definitely a step in the right direction, and revivifies the conversation surrounding cannabis laws in Tasmania.

And let's not forget, cases such as Lyn Cleaver's son Jeremy are precisely what got the medical marijuana ball rolling in the U.S., with Charlotte Figi's high profile case of using CBD to treat her epilepsy. Charlotte's case served as the catalyst for change and led to the very first FDA approved cannabis drug, Epidiolex, for epilepsy sufferers just like herself.

If that's anything to go off, Tasmania may see some big changes in the coming years.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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