Australia could soon be home to a 'flourishing' medicinal cannabis industry

Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images.

The federal government has announced plans to legalise the growing of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes, a scheme which could come into effect as early as this year.

The new licensing scheme in conjunction with the Department of Health hopes to deliver a safe and reliable supply of locally manufactured medicinal cannabis products for the first time, to provide those suffering from epilepsy, chronic illnesses and other diseases with relief from pain.

“Australian patients, researchers and manufacturers have had to try to access international supplies of legal medicinal cannabis crops and products, but limited supplies and export barriers in other countries have made this difficult,” said health minister Sussan Ley.

“Allowing the cultivation of legal medicinal cannabis crops in Australia under strict controls strikes the right balance between patient access, community protection and our international ­obligations.”

Medicinal cannabis, which contains non-psychoactive cannabinoids (CBD), is known to curb the symptoms of a range of health conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy by providing relief to severe pain, nausea, vomiting and seizures.

Earlier this year, Australia’s first medicinal marijuana company Phytotech merged with MMJ Bioscience to develop cannabis in a pill form, or in other words, a “dope pill” under regulated medical cannabis legislation.

Its first batch, marked as a “dietary supplement”, began retailing in Germany in August for around 3 euros each ($4.70) and can be purchased online with plans to produce another 1 million CBD (Cannabidiol) capsules by the end of the year.

“Medical cannabis is fast becoming accepted as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions around the world and the success today is an encouraging sign that investors have confidence in our strategy, technology and business model,” said Peter Wall, chairman of Phytotech, earlier this year.

The pills which contain CBD, a class of chemical compounds from the cannabis, are said to deliver greater health benefits without the intoxicating effect of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

In Australia, Victoria recently announced plans to become the first city in Australia to legalise access to locally manufactured medicinal cannabis by 2017, with those suffering from severe epilepsy the priority.

The NSW government also plans to follow the footsteps of Victoria in legalising medicinal marijuana after committing $9 million in funding for approved clinical trials earlier this year along with another $12 million for an international Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation.

The trials, administered by Medlab Clinical’s Sydney laboratory, have been responsible for researching the therapeutic purposes of cannabis in alleviating chronic pain, diabetes, arthritis and even cardiovascular disease.

Medlab said that smaller doses of cannabis could potentially reduce the risk and complications for patients with plans to use a patented small particle delivery platform, NanoCelle, to administer these therapeutic cannabis applications.

The byproduct of all this has meant that pressure has been steadily mounting on the federal government to legalise medicinal cannabis, especially after local residents have been forced to turn to overseas supplies of the drug.

Australia can expect to be a market for products such as as the cannabis pill by Phytotech if medical marijuana is legalised.

Ley said that she was still finalising changes to the Narcotics Drugs Act but new cannabis products would still be regulated by The Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The Opposition today also called for a nationwide scheme to legalise medicinal cannabis by pledging a federal licensing system for the growing of cannabis.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten tweeted that he would “announce Labor’s plan to ensure people suffering from terminal serious medical conditions can access medicinal cannabis.”

Shadow assistant health minister, Stephen Jones, echoed support for a national medicinal cannabis scheme saying: “It should not be a matter of whether you live in New South Wales or Victoria or somewhere else in Australia.

“If you are suffering from a terminal, if your child has drug resistant epilepsy suffering from life threatening fits, then you should have available to you through medical advice and appropriate channels, medicinal cannabis.”

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