Australians will be able to access medicinal cannabis more quickly under changes being introduced by the Turnbull government.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday announced that approved importers will be able to buy the medication from overseas and store it in Australia for immediate distribution until domestic production meets local needs.
The move will make it easier for patients who now must wait for the product to be imported once prescribed by an authorised doctor.
“What this means is that there will be a supply to meet all Australian demand,” Mr Hunt told ABC Radio.
It’s expected that Australia will have a store of imported medicinal cannabis products within eight weeks.
Local production was only legalised late last year and will take time to develop, he said.
The first licence for private cultivation was only issued last week.
“We want to get on right now in making easier and faster access available for patients who are ultimately the real users of safe, high quality, appropriately-obtained medicine,” Mr Hunt said.
Victoria expects locally-sourced medicinal cannabis to be available by the middle of the year or a little bit later.
Health Minister Greg Hunt will today announce it can be sold in Australia, if patients visit their doctor to request it.
“That won’t happen overnight, but what we’ve done here is issue a call for people to be able to establish an interim supply for and within Australia through importation,” he said.
The federal government last year legalised medicinal cannabis use and states regulate its cultivation, with Victoria having already harvested its first cannabis crop for medicinal use by people with epilepsy.
“Last year, the law was put in place which made medicinal cannabis available. Now however I want to … deal immediately with the question of supply.”
Mr Hunt praised Victoria for its work in cultivating the crop, citing the need for “safe, high quality, appropriately obtained medicine”.
The announcement comes in the same week that NSW’s health minister rejected a push by the state’s opposition to swiftly decriminalise cannabis for the chronically ill.
The NSW Labor said it plans to introduce a bill to parliament this week which would allow medically-certified sufferers to carry small amounts of cannabis up to 15 grams.
Labor leader Luke Foley says people with serious or terminal conditions should not be treated like criminals for trying to ease their pain.
But Health Minister Brad Hazzard has accused Mr Foley of “taking advantage of vulnerable people” by politicising the issue.
“No clinical expert would actually endorse what (Mr Foley) is saying,” Mr Hazzard told question time on Tuesday.
NSW has already begun trialling medicinal cannabis for cancer sufferers and children with epilepsy.