Image by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP
Australian Doctors and GPs in the northern state of Queensland can now prescribe medicinal cannabis to any patient with any condition, following new legislation that was passed last week.
The state’s Department of Health announced in a statement last Tuesday that “any registered medical practitioner” could write a prescription for a medical cannabis product—be it plant-based or synthetic—“if they believe it is clinically appropriate” to their patient’s condition and have obtained the required Commonwealth approval.
Appropriate conditions can include severe muscular spasms, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and/or palliative care, some types of chronic pain not associated with cancer, and some types of epilepsy with severe seizures, according to the statement.
“You may apply for other conditions,” the Department adds, “however, you will need to supply clinical evidence with your application for this to be considered.” This clinical evidence must support the use of the proposed cannabis product—whether that be tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), or both THC and CBD in combination—as a treatment for the patient’s condition.
In Australia, medical cannabis products are currently classified as either Schedule 4 (Prescription Only Medicine) or Schedule 8 (Controlled Drug) substances, the latter of which it is illegal to possess “without authority”. Prior to the new legislation, only a small group of specialist practitioners who were registered with Queensland Health were allowed to prescribe these products—and they had to apply for each script via the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Now, as per the Department of Health’s statement, “Queensland doctors can prescribe Schedule 4—cannabidiol (CBD) and Schedule 8—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or tetrahydrocannabinol: cannabidiol (THC:CBD) products without a Queensland approval”. In short, this makes it much easier for people to get their hands on medicinal weed.
That weed can come in the form of vapour, capsules, sprays, or tinctures (oil or alcohol that’s been infused with plant cannabis), although the Department stresses that the smoking of cannabis products will not be approved in Queensland.
In the scheme of things, this update to the legislation represents just one small change in how Australian jurisdictions regulate the distribution and use of medical cannabis. But it is indicative of the way in which the nation is slowly shifting towards a more liberal approach—and, in turn, getting ever closer to the potential decriminalisation of the drug.
The Australian parliament legalised the growing of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes in February 2016, before legalising its the usage at the federal level in November of that year.
In September 2019, the Australia Capital Territory passed a bill to legalise the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use as of 31 January 2020—although, confusingly, the state laws conflicted with federal laws which still prohibit the recreational use of cannabis.
The Queensland Productivity Commission also conducted an enquiry into rates of imprisonment in the state last year, and—in findings released in January of this year—observed that “all available evidence shows the war on drugs fails to restrict usage or supply”. That commission found that decriminalisation would improve the lives of drug users without increasing the rate of drug use, and recommended that the Queensland government legalise cannabis. The government previously rejected these recommendations.
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