What’s Australia’s Story with Medical Cannabis?
The issue of medical cannabis in Australia has been a difficult one to navigate over the years, but the fast-moving pace of the cannabis industry is causing a new wave of acceptance and law changes at rapid speed, that could see massive changes in a once strictly restricted area of medicine.
Medical cannabis was made legal on prescription in 2016 in Australia, but a combination of legislation and strict regulations, previously led to only a select few patients, who suffer from specific or terminal illnesses, to be allowed access. However Australia’s new Special Access Scheme (SAS) is about to change that.
So how did Australia get to this point and what is the country’s stance on medical cannabis now?
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Australia’s Story so far…..
Like many countries worldwide, Australia’s change of attitude and law towards medical cannabis has come from a number of cannabis advocates going public with their own anecdotes. Their fight to obtain the incredible potential benefits of medical cannabis has been faced with hurdles and enormous legal ramifications. Gaining attention from the national, and international press, in the hope that legislators and regulators might listen and adapt; so that the future of those who could benefit from using medicinal cannabis and CBD can easily access it.
Daniel Haslam vs Australia
One public campaigner who brought the issue of medical cannabis to the public forefront is Daniel Haslam from New South Wales. The story of Daniel and his family’s relentless pursuit to make medical cannabis available to those that need it is probably one of the most publicly publicised, and memorable parts of the medical cannabis narrative in Australia.
In 2010, at the young age of 20, Daniel was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, it had spread and made his liver inoperable. After four years of fighting with the effects of chemotherapy and surgeries, medical cannabis was recommended to him by a family friend to relieve Daniel from the side effects.
The family embarked on their own research, which uncovered a lot of anecdotal evidence that pointed to the potential relief cannabis oil could offer patients being treated for cancer in its advanced stages. Daniel then started his own journey and discovered the benefit of adding medical cannabis to his own life. From this point on the family, who lost Daniel in 2015, have advocated for the decriminalisation of medical cannabis. The Haslams public fight has inspired more acceptance of medical cannabis and has spread awareness of the injustice of it not being readily available for patients.
Katelyn Lambert vs Australia
Elsewhere in Australia the Lambert family have also created attention around medicinal cannabis. They became strong advocates. After their daughter was in need of a new potential solution for epilepsy.
From the age of just six months old, Katelyn Lambert has been suffering from a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome, which causes frequent seizures and developmental problems; Katelyn is now six years old.
Worldwide anecdotal evidence of the potencial benefit of cannabis for Dravet Syndrome has been mounting in recent years, but access to CBD or other forms of medical cannabis in Australia has not always been so easy to find, due to its strict laws and controversial attitude towards it.
Compared to certain states in America that have similar stories to Katelyn’s, their story of success in using cannabis oil has been harder. Prior to using cannabis oil, Katelyn could suffer up to 1000 seizures a day. The family were surprised to see overnight results; her seizures and rate of hospitalisation reduced dramatically.
Very serious legal implications became a reality for the family when the police confiscated cannabis from their home, and Katelyn’s father Michael was charged with cultivation and possession. After being subjected to legal proceedings Michael was found guilty by a court, of criminal possession of cannabis in 2017. Recently, the law has changed to legalize cannabis for medicinal use with a prescription, but possession and cultivation without a permit, is still illegal.
Katelyn and her family’s fight to obtain medical cannabis has led to her grandfather, Barry Lambert, becoming a prominent advocate in the fight to legalize cannabis products for therapeutic use in Australia. Given the family’s own experience, as well as the stories of others, they believe that all the anecdotal evidence CBD has gives it great potential.
There is now a new pharmaceutical drug on the market that is specifically for Dravet Syndrome, that has recently gained FDA approval. Epidiolex will be the first cannabidiol (CBD) medication available for this type of epilepsy. The compound cannabidiol was reclassified and is now a schedule 4 drug in Australia, therefore available on prescription.
Barry and his wife Joy have made a staggering $33.7 million donation to the University of Sydney to support scientific research into cannabinoids and to help inform clinical practice and progress the medical advancement of medicinal cannabis.
The Greenlight Campaign
The Greenlight campaign, which started in 2017, is spearheaded by Epilepsy Action Australia to share anecdotes of patients’ own experience with medical cannabis. The campaign hopes to put an end to criminalising patients and patient carers and prevent harmful restrictions and delays in accessing medical cannabis.
The campaign invites people from all over Australia who already use medicinal cannabis to share their stories on their website and holds public events every two weeks to increase the visibility of their cause.
Attitudes are Changing in Australia
The publicity of these stories and campaigns, as well as others worldwide, ignited passion in those that championed the advocacy of the decriminalization of medical cannabis, and the story of Daniel and his family's plight has contributed towards the changes in medicinal cannabis laws in Australia.
In 2015, a study showed that 91 percent of people who were asked their thoughts on medical cannabis, backed legalisation to legalize medical cannabis, this growing attitude and stories like Daniel’s, have been reflected in the government's decision to change its stance on cannabis for medicinal.
In terms of new legislation, the changes have progressed quite quickly in a short timeline; regulatory bodies first imposed strict specifications on the access to medicinal cannabis products as a starting point, in order to assure high standards and high-quality products are the future of the industry in Australia.
There once were many hurdles in Australian law, as well as difficulties for patients to access medical cannabis, but with new legislation, this could all be about to change.
A New Scheme could Bring Hope
Over the last few weeks, we have been covering the changes that are arising within the Australian government regarding patient access to medical cannabis. The launch of the New Special Access Scheme (SAS) on the 30 July 2018, may mean that difficult stories like Daniel’s and Katelyn’s will be things of the past.
Currently, most types of cannabis products are deemed illegal in Australia, without a valid prescription, even the likes of CBD for therapeutic use is not allowed. Unlike, many other countries around the world where the cannabis compound Cannabidiol (CBD) is legal, Australia still lists the cannabinoid CBD as a schedule 4 controlled substance.
This new scheme is a dawn of a new age of acceptance for Australia with regard to CBD and cannabis, the investment of the government in creating this scheme to ease the process of accessing medicinal cannabis, just proves their belief in the potential evidence that surrounds this plant.
What’s the Future of Cannabis in Australia?
Whilst regulations and laws catch up with one another, the government has high expectations for the medical cannabis industry in Australia. The health minister has even highlighted the profitability of the export market for Australian future cannabis growers. An export permit will give domestic manufacturers the ability to export cannabis products abroad, which the minister sees as helping the ongoing supply of medicinal cannabis products locally in Australia too.
Though the recreational use of cannabis remains illegal across all federal, state, and territory laws in Australia, the political landscape and opinions of on legalisation are changing with cross-party support coming from the majority of parties.