The use of cannabis for restricted medical purposes is set to be legalised in Victoria following the passing of the Access to Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2015.  The Bill creates a new legal regime that regulates the cultivation, manufacture and supply of cannabis in Victoria, and allows for specified categories of patients to have access to cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Initially, children who have severe epileptic seizures in respect of which other treatment options have proved ineffective or generated intolerable side effects may be prescribed medicinal cannabis. The Victorian Government will also establish an independent medical advisory committee to consider whether patients with other medical conditions should also have access to medicinal cannabis.  There is speculation that this may include patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS.

At first instance, the Victorian Government will undertake a small-scale cannabis cultivation trial at a government research facility. It is anticipated that the medicinal cannabis products from this trial will be available in early 2017.  Subject to the success of this trial, the Victorian Government is expected to consider issuing licences to commercial manufacturers under the new licensing regime provided for in the Bill.  An Office of Medicinal Cannabis will be established to oversee the implementation of the new medicinal cannabis framework.

Victoria is the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise medical cannabis, with New South Wales and Queensland currently undertaking clinical trials. The Bill follows a 2015 Victorian Law Reform Commission report recommending changes to the law to allow for the use of medicinal cannabis in some circumstances.

There has also been recent legislative reform in this space by the Commonwealth Government. Amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (Cth) in February 2016 have legalised the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes at a federal level, and imposed a new licensing regime.  Any cannabis growers or manufacturers will be required to obtain licences from both the Victorian and Commonwealth governments.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has also made an interim decision to change how cannabis is regulated by the Poisons Standard.  Currently, cannabis is listed in Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances), which prevents it from being manufactured, sold or used in Australia except for specific research purposes.  The TGA’s interim decision will result in the following changes to the Poisons Standard:

  • Cannabis will be down-scheduled to Schedule 8 (Controlled Drugs), but subject to restrictions requiring it to have been cultivated, produced and manufactured in accordance with the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (Cth). Imported cannabis must also comply with the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956.
  • Cannabis will only be available by prescription, where the medical practitioner has been authorised by an appropriate authority.
  • Cannabis must be labelled with a warning about its potential sedative effect.

These changes to the Poisons Standard are proposed to come into effect on 1 June 2016 and complete the framework for access to the drug for medicinal purposes