The Australian Climate on Cannabis
In 2016, cannabis became legal within the nation for specific medical conditions. This law was passed under the Therapeutic Goods Administration in 2016. However for recreational consumption, cannabis consumption is still fully criminalised, although in territories such as the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory, the possession and personal use of marijuana has been decriminalised.
What is the National Access Scheme?
The National Access Scheme, or Special Access Scheme (SAS), is a government regulated procedure which allows medical patients to access substances that are otherwise banned by the Australian government, which includes cannabis.
Under the SAS, individuals who require controlled substances for the treatment of specific medical conditions can apply to the state and be granted access to their medication.
How Can Someone Sign Up To Obtain Medical Cannabis?
In order to gain access to medical cannabis, an unwell person must register themselves as a prospective medical marijuana patient. In order to be granted a medical marijuana license, a patient must fall under one or more of three categories provided by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) under the Special Access Scheme (SAS). These categories are as follows;
- Category A – A Patient Notified as Seriously Ill
- Category B – An Application Pathway (Which must be approved by the TGA)
- Category C – Notification of Use of Specified Therapeutic Goods
A patient who falls under one or more categories listed above can apply for a medical marijuana license within the country. To apply, patients are required to fill out a form for the category they fall under, and submit it to the Commonwealth and State and Territory Health Departments via the SAS online system.
This system was launched on the 30th of July 2018. Prior to this time, potential medical marijuana patients would have to file separate applications to both the Commonwealth and State/Territory Health departments. For more on the application process, patients can refer to the SAS online system.
The homepage of the TGA SAS where potential cannabis patients can submit their applications for cannabis licenses. Source
How Hard Is It To Get Cannabis Prescribed?
Despite the provisions made for access to medical marijuana, it is still very difficult to obtain. To be granted a medical marijuana prescription, an individual must be deemed a medical marijuana patient, and obtain a license after being placed into one of three TGA approved access categories.
Even when these procedures are strictly adhered to, there is a strong possibility that a potential patient will not be granted a license. The TGA is often reluctant to prescribe cannabis for common conditions it can be effectively used to manage, such as anxiety and sleep disorders. Instead, they favour patients with rare conditions such as multiple sclerosis, who make up less than 20% of the Australian population wishing to access medical marijuana.
As of April 2018, only 525 people had been registered under the Special Access Scheme. This is nowhere near the amount of citizens who need medical marijuana for the treatment their health issues. A massive number of these patients have turned to illegal dealers to obtain their cannabis products.
Some of the Reasons Your Doctor Might Be Reluctant To Prescribe Cannabis
Following the legalisation of cannabis, more Australians are asking their general practitioners about cannabis-related treatment plans. A survey found that 61.5% of GPs reported at least one patient asking about medical marijuana within the last three months. In order to prescribe medical cannabis, a GP must be listed as an authorised prescriber under the TGA or apply per patient via category B of the Special Access Scheme. Even when authorised to prescribe the substance, many doctors are reluctant to give their patients the go-ahead. This can be attributed to a number of reasons including;
- Bureaucracy involved in obtaining medical cannabis – There are numerous processes involved with obtaining a license to prescribe marijuana and only a handful of GPs are comfortable with the processes involved.
- Insufficient knowledge about cannabis– A large number of GPs are at a disadvantage when it comes to being informed about cannabis. These doctors do not have enough knowledge to comfortably prescribe marijuana to patients, and in some cases are not even comfortable discussing it as a viable treatment option.
- Personalised stigmas towards marijuana and its by-products – Having been a controlled substance for a long time, many individuals – including health practitioners – have formed a bias against cannabis products. This bias can stand in the way of patients and their prescriptions.
In order to give Australians access to controlled but otherwise beneficial substances, the Special Access Scheme was created. Despite the provisions of the scheme, patients are often faced with heavily bureaucratic procedures which make obtaining medications difficult. While things do look set to change, even attempting to access cannabis products for legitimate health complaints can be tricky, if not impossible.