The United States may be the epicentre of weed action right now, but there’s also plenty happening on the cannabis scene in Australia. As is the case in many regions worldwide, they seem to have taken a highly important step forward this month, along with what many are considering to a large step back. Cannabis campaigners across the country have been lobbying for easier, more widespread access to medicinal cannabis for some time, just as those in favour of recreational cannabis decriminalisation are making their voices well and truly heard.
For the time being, it’s looking like good news for those in the medical marijuana camp. The reason being that the Australian government has put into action a new policy on medical pot – aka The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act 2016 – which will allow those with permission to do so to grow their own medical cannabis at home. With millions of people already relying on medical cannabis for the treatment of various medical conditions, the news has been unanimously welcomed across the country.
Health minister Sussan Ley spoke of the huge and beneficial changes the new policy will bring to those in real need of medicinal cannabis.
“Until now, it has been difficult for patients to access medicinal cannabis products from overseas sources,” read a statement she released when the new bill was enacted.
“These new laws change that situation by providing for a domestic supply of medicinal cannabis products that are not readily available for import.”
At the same time however, she made it entirely clear that there would be no changes in marijuana policy anytime soon for recreational users. Which means that for the foreseeable future, recreational cannabis will continue to be wholly illegal nationwide. Those looking to grow medical cannabis for themselves will be required to obtain a permit, which will involve passing a security test and satisfying multiple criteria. Either way, it represents a highly positive and important change in cannabis policy for the greater good of patients across Australia.
Meanwhile, the Federal government of Australia has decided to pull the plug on the country’s state-sponsored and operated cannabis advice and information service.
But while this distribution of licensing duties may lead to discrepancies and disappointment in some instances, the move has been unanimously welcomed as a positive step forward for an incalculable number of patients in need of medicinal cannabis. For almost a decade, The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre at the University of New South Wales has been providing members of the public and the medical community alike with support, education and training on all matters related to cannabis and its use. However, having discovered that cannabis usage rates across the country have remained largely the same for the past 20 years, it has been decided that the Fed should be focusing its efforts on a wider range of drugs, including crystal meth.
Critics have warned that the closure of the NCPIC will inevitably lead to members of the public once again relying on the information and advice they read from other websites and sources, which may not be nearly as reliable or safe as the government’s portal.
“While there are for-profit general alcohol and other drug information sources along with the state and federal drug campaign websites, there is no organisation in Australia or internationally, that can fill the gap left by NCPIC,” said Prof Jan Copeland, current director of the NCPIC.
“We have the researchers who can assess the scientific merit of the evidence to bring clear messages to cannabis users and their families,”
“We have evidence-based clinical tools and interventions, tested and published in peer-reviewed journals, available to service providers and the public, free of charge, in the form of a telephone helpline, web and smartphone based brief interventions. We are also the last source of free clinical training to Australian clinician’s on assessment and brief interventions for cannabis use disorders.”
Nevertheless, it was made clear by the government that to withdraw funding for the project after pumping more than $30 million into it over the years was not up for negotiation.
“There is a need to consider a more holistic, responsive and current approach to the provision of drug and alcohol research and information needs of the drug and alcohol sector and the community that is broader than focusing on a single substance,” argued a Health Department representative.
“In particular, consultations and information gathering over the past 18 months has identified a change in policy context and priorities, including the release of the National Ice Action Strategy.”