At last Friday’s COAG Health Council meeting, all Australian states and territories supported faster access to unregistered medical cannabis products.
Ministers agreed to the development of a single national online application pathway that covers both the Commonwealth and state and territory application and approval for such products, avoiding duplication and unnecessary delays.
“So there will be a one-stop shop for accessing medicinal cannabis,” said Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt in doorstop interview on Friday. “This means that the decision as to whether or not to prescribe is rightly in the hands of medical professionals, but once that decision is made, access will then be provided within what we expect to be a 48-hour period. Indeed, in many cases, as low as 24 hours.”
As we reported in March, the state of New South Wales was the test- bed for a single application approach, and that model will be spread nationally. However, the timeframe for approvals has increased from 36 hours in the New South Wales trial to up to 48 hours nationally. Additionally, your local GP can’t prescribe cannabis unless the application is supported by a specialist.
While the move will no doubt be welcomed, the affordability of cannabis medicines will still provide a major hurdle – and these products will not be covered under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
According to the Medical Cannabis Users Association of Australia (MCUAA), the cost can range from $1500 to over $2000 per month; well out of reach for many. MCUAA argues that no-one should have to pay that much for “medicine” that can be grown their back yard for free. The group has called on Mr. Hunt to investigate pricing issues – and do something about it.
MCUAA’s activities including lobbying for grow rights for all people who choose to use cannabis as a front-line treatment for curative or for preventative purposes.
Currently, the number of Australians able to (legally) access cannabis medicines for treating various conditions is still just a few hundred, when the demand is likely to be in the tens of thousands.
As to when the new streamlined system agreed upon at COAG will be implemented across Australia wasn’t clear.