Federal health minister Greg Hunt may have given on one hand while taking away with the other in approving the sale of medicinal marijuana in Australia today.
With locally produced cannabis products still months away, Hunt today fast-tracked the import of the drug so seriously ill patients could be using it as soon as April.
He said it was an “interim measure” until domestic production was enough to meet local demand.
Associate professor David Allsop at the University of Sydney welcomed the move, saying it was “a welcome step towards unblocking access to those patients who most need this medicine”.
But he added that allowing overseas importation could damage local growers attempting to “justify business models to investors”.
The first licence to legally grow cannabis in Australia was issued just yesterday, to Victorian-based Cann Group.
Allsop said a restriction which requires doctors to make the application to import cannabis could also be a “potential flash point”.
“Most doctors either do not know how to apply, do not have the required training or expertise to apply, or are politically or philosophically against supporting a medical cannabis application,” he said.
Others, such as University of Adelaide’s senior lecturer in pharmacology, Dr Scott Smid, welcomed the “exciting” opportunity to further research potential therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids.
“Cannabinoids may reveal new insights into the biological basis of disease, for example some types of epilepsy, as well as open up new targets and avenues for disease treatment,” Smid said.
“This … may also ensure the longer term sustainability of the fledgling medicinal cannabis industry in Australia, in terms of providing new markets.”