Legislation to allow medicinal cannabis to be grown and manufactured in Victoria will be introduced into State Parliament today, and children with epilepsy are expected to be given first access.
The Andrews Government said during the 2014 election campaign that it wanted make cannabis legal and available to those with ill health in exceptional circumstances.
A report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission handed down in October advised the Government on how to prescribe and regulate the drug.
The Access to Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2015 to be introduced today will “provide a legal framework to enable the cultivation and manufacture of safe and high-quality medicinal cannabis products,” the Government said.
Children with severe epilepsy would be given first access to the drug in 2017, it said.
The Queensland Government announced earlier this year that a trial to treat children with epilepsy with medicinal cannabis would take place in that state in 2016.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy said access to the drug would be rolled out gradually and eventually be made available to palliative care and those with HIV.
“I know patients are knocking down our door asking when they’ll be able to access medicinal cannabis, we’ve got two important steps to take,” she said.
“The first is we’ve got to get a safe product produced and manufactured here in the state.
“The second is we’ve got to have the right clinical oversight in terms of which patients get access and how we prescribe it.
“We can only produce a product at a small scale to begin with and then scale up, that’s why we’re starting with the kids with epilepsy.”
Ms Hennessy said she hoped the legislation would be passed by February next year.
‘Right processes’ for cultivation need to be in place
Medicinal cannabis is legal in 23 states in the United States, and also Spain and Israel, Ms Hennessy said, but legislation changes at the federal level were needed to import the drug.
“We’ve got to do it safely, we need to get the right processes in place but we’re very conscious that for patients it can’t come soon enough,” Ms Hennessy said.
“We’re being cautious, but very focused.
“This bill is setting up the infrastructure we need in order to progress this change and get patients access.”
The Government said the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources would oversee cultivation trials and receive new regulatory powers to license growers.
It would also establish the Office of Medicinal Cannabis to oversee the manufacturing and dispensing of the drug, while an independent medical advisory committee on medicinal cannabis would also be created.