The Slow (But Accelerating) Take-Up of Medicinal Cannabis In Australia

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After a slow initial two years, the Australian medicinal cannabis market is rapidly reaching a point of maturity.

Approvals for patients in the month of October are up by more than 400% compared to January, and several large-scale growers have announced their intent to introduce new medicinal cannabis products onto the market in 2019.

But if Australia is going to take medicinal cannabis seriously as a therapeutic good, it’s instructive to look at why the market has been so slow to adapt to its legalisation.

One of the key issues slowing adoption were an incomplete supply chain from grower to patient and an out-dated application process.

A problem of supply

Until very recently, all medicinal cannabis products in Australia were imported from Canada and other jurisdictions, often at enormous costs.

Stories of patients paying more than $500 for less than a week’s worth of medicine – or nearly $100 a dose – were not uncommon.

No medicinal cannabis products are covered under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, meaning consumers had to bear the cost entirely.

With the majority of patients approved for medicinal cannabis being prescribed the drug for debilitating conditions such as cancer, refractory paediatric epilepsy and chronic spinal pain, this was a cost that many patients were ill-equipped to bear.

Additionally, the approval process for potential local growers stipulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in October 2016 was extremely strict, with minimum security requirements that were difficult for many farming operations to meet.

A fresh start

This approval process has begun to bear fruit, however, as the crop from Australia’s first legal farms is nearing harvest.

Medifarm – the first Australian company to receive approval to cultivate and manufacture medicinal cannabis – is aiming to produce enough medicinal cannabis to supply 5,000 patients per year.

With the number of Australians illegally using cannabis as treatment for various ailments estimated at 100,000, this alone could make a significant difference in the market.

While there is still work to be done to ensure that medicinal cannabis is safe, accessible and affordable for those who need it, the entrance of local players into the market with fresh supply can only alleviate the current situation.

Darryl Davies