Written by John Sutton
April 26, 2016
On 1 April 2016 public consultation in respect of the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016 was closed. The Bill, which sets out a regulatory framework for the prescription and dispensing of cannabis in a medical setting, will now be debated in the parliament before becoming law (if it is adopted and passed). Precisely when this debate and/or passing into law will occur is murky but there are general indicia, such as the imminent re-categorisation of cannabis as a dangerous drug under the Drugs Misuse Act, or the recent empowering of the Chief Executive of Queensland Health to authorise the use of cannabis in certain clinical trials, that it will be sooner rather than later.
An interested observer might ask, how will this regulatory framework operate? They might also ask, will the new framework make cannabis ‘legal’ or otherwise decriminalise it?
The answer to those last two questions is ‘no’, and an examination of the way the system is proposed to work makes this abundantly clear.
The proposed framework does not allow the wholesale prescription of marijuana for medicinal or medical purposes and it most certainly does not decriminalise the possession, sale or production of the drug (for example one could not obtain a prescription to grow one’s own cannabis under the proposed scheme). Instead, the scheme will allow for a very limited range of pre-determined and pre-authorised ‘cannabis products’ to be prescribed by a medical practitioner pursuant to an authorisation granted by the Chief Executive of Queensland Health.
Merely because a doctor might prescribe cannabis as a remedy to an ailment, a patient is in no way empowered to then source their own marijuana or to possess cannabis with any kind of carte blanche. The prescription will only allow for the possession of a discrete clinical product, certified and authorised firstly by the Commonwealth’s Therapeutic Goods Administration and then the Chief Executive of Queensland Health. On reading the Bill as proposed (presently in a ‘Working Draft’ format) there is every reason to suspect that the products which are intended to be prescribed and dispensed are pharmaceutical interpretations of cannabis, perhaps something like a THC pill, rather than Clip Seal Plastic Bags containing Green Leafy Matter.
Furthermore, the Bill does not seem to offer any significant hope of a medicinal cannabis industry sprouting up in Queensland (pun well and truly intended). Production of cannabis will not be legalised or otherwise authorised under the proposed scheme. The certified and authorised cannabis products will have to be sourced from similarly authorised providers, all of whom are presently located overseas.
The final implementation of the regulatory framework is still some time away but, whatever the final look of the scheme, there is at least one certainty – cannabis is not about to be legalised or decriminalised in any meaningful way in Queensland.