Australia’s federal government announced on Friday that it plans to overturn a ban on growing cannabis for medicinal purposes, but it will be up to individual states to legalize the herb for local medical use.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Health Minister Sussan Ley was moved by stories of medical marijuana patients and hopes to give those suffering from debilitating illnesses access to effective medical treatment.
“I have heard stories of patients who have resorted to illegal methods of obtaining cannabis and I have felt for them, because with a terminal condition, the most important thing is quality of life and relief of pain,” Ley told ABC’s AM radio program. “And we know that many people are calling out for medicinal cannabis.”
“It is important therefore that we recognize those calls for help, that we put in place what we know will support a safe, legal and sustainable supply of a product,” she continued.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Ley is finalizing changes to the Narcotics Drug Act of 1967, which will establish a legal and regulatory framework to allow the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. The creation of a regulatory body will remove one of the biggest obstacles for states to implement medi-pot programs and to conduct medical and scientific trials.
“Currently there are already systems in place to license the manufacture and supply of medicinal cannabis-based products in Australia, however there is no mechanism to allow the production of a safe, legal and sustainable local supply,” Ley explained. “This has meant 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.”
According to the Guardian, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland—Australia’s three most populous states—have already pledged “to hold trials on the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis to provide pain relief for people suffering terminal illnesses, control severe childhood epilepsy and for the treatment of symptoms arising from chemotherapy.”
“We believe the approach the federal government is taking is sensible, measured and demonstrates forward thinking,” the New South Wales minister for medical research, Pru Goward, told the Guardian. “We do not want patients or carers having to play pharmacist, this collaborative approach ensures we have a way forward.”
Patterning this new cannabis market after Tasmania’s $300M poppy industry (the state produces 45 percent of the world’s opium for use in pharmaceutical painkillers), Ley expects a number of states will want in—especially, if Australia can overcome legal barriers to export pot to other countries. The move would likely generate millions for state economies.
AFR Weekend reports that Ley will meet with state and territory health ministers next month to discuss how the changes will work and hopes to have them in place by the end of the year.