17 June 2019

The Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis, Communiqué #9

The Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis (the Council) met on Thursday 14 March 2019 in Melbourne for its ninth meeting.

The meeting was chaired by Professor James Angus AO. Council members represent professional organisations, specialist areas of the medical profession and patient groups.

The department thanked the Council for their service and leadership over the last two years and advised that the Minister had demonstrated his support of the Council, and its value, through his decision to continue the Council for a further two years.

2019 Work Plan

The Council discussed priorities for the 2019 Work Plan and identified a number of potential future focus areas including development of support materials and guidance documents, communication with industry, independent analysis of research and law enforcement issues.

Regulatory updates

The Council received a detailed update on the status of the regulatory scheme for the cultivation, production and manufacture of medicinal cannabis - including the status of licences, permits and applications, and noted a steady stream of both licence and permit applications continue to be lodged.

The Council was advised of the continuing issues relating to licencing and permits, including assessment timeframes and rejection rates. The Council was also advised of emerging compliance issues including transport of product, plant composition and company insolvency. The department advised that relevant issues are being monitored and assistance from law enforcement will be requested where relevant.

The Council discussed the newly formed industry peak body, the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia Association (MCIAA) and acknowledged the Medicinal Cannabis Council, and noted the possibility of inviting a representative to address the Council at a later date.

Special Access Scheme (SAS) Online Portal

The department provided an update on the Special Access Schemes (SAS), including an overview of data relating to patient access to medicinal cannabis products via different access pathways. The Council noted there has been a significant increase in SAS B approvals since December 2018.

The department announced that applications for the SAS were able to be lodged through the online portal in all states with the exception of TAS. The Council acknowledged the portal had been reflected positively in the press and appeared to be being viewed favourably by industry.

Review of the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967

Professor John McMillan AO addressed the Council on the review of the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967, noting the scope of the Review and summarising his activities to date.

The Council noted that the public forums had been well attended by representatives from a diverse cross section of industry ranging from commercial, patient access, law enforcement, academic and medical interests. The department acknowledged that the forums also provided an opportunity to clarify issues and provide a greater awareness of the regulatory framework and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).

The department reiterated the importance of the Review noting that it had been written into the legislation to acknowledge that the lawful cultivation, production and manufacture of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes was new and had not been attempted before. The department further reiterated that the Review was an important tool to assist the department to continue to actively engage, learn and evolve in the medicinal cannabis space as appropriate.

Road safety and the use of medicinal drugs

Professor Olaf Drummer AO, Department of Forensic Medicine Monash University, addressed the Council and delivered a comprehensive presentation on medicinal cannabis and driving.

The Council noted the concerns of medicinal cannabis patients that they could be charged with a driving offence if given a roadside drug presence test. The Council discussed at length the difference between impairment and presence and noted the insurance and legal implications of a positive drug presence test and the impact this could have on the behaviour of medicinal cannabis patients.

The Council agreed to readdress and monitor the issue at future meetings.