Last week’s announcement of the TGA’s interim decision on down scheduling CBD was an object lesson in how the media won’t let all the facts get in the way of a good story.

Martin Lane - Cannabis Australia - Cannabiz
Cannabiz co-founder and chief growth officer Martin Lane

Whether you believe the decision is a good start (the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Association) or does nothing for patient access (the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association), any move that appears to mean consumers will be able to buy cannabis from their local Chemist Warehouse was always going to go big in the mainstream media.

The italics are mine because there are clearly different views about the TGA’s decision within the industry. But when it comes to telling the story, the media had already made their minds up which side of the debate they were on.

While there were plenty of company spokespeople lining up to tell reporters this was the biggest thing since medical cannabis legalisation in 2016, others keen to point out the problems with some of the small print in the TGA decision didn’t get much of a hearing.

But the nuances of schedule 3 listings and ARTG registration were always going to get lost in the noise and, watching the report on 7News last Wednesday night, one could be forgiven for thinking the pharmacy shelves would soon be awash with CBD.

The danger of that, as Cannabiz editor-at-large Rhys Cohen points out in the latest episode of our Business of Cannabis podcast, is consumers may get a false view of the availability of medicinal cannabis while manufacturers scramble to get their products approved for sale.

In other words, supply won’t match demand, leading to more frustration for patients.

Ultimately though, the more discussion there is around medicinal cannabis, the better from the industry’s point of view. And if customers start asking their pharmacist for CBD products, that should create demand further up the supply chain.

If customers start asking their pharmacist for CBD products, that should create demand further up the supply chain

From a lobbying point of view, the next few weeks are crucial. There’s still time for the TGA to finesse its interim ruling, with a deadline for industry submissions of October 13. And that’s where the nuanced discussions around dosage, compounding and registration will need to take place.

The newly minted Parliamentary Friends of Medicinal Cannabis Group will be another important conduit to exert influence on the Government.

But lobbying and PR are not the same thing. And regardless of any tweaks the industry manages to chisel out of the TGA, the headlines will still scream ‘CBD for all’ come November.

That’s not to say there’s not a role for PR in helping the wider public understand there are still battles ahead when it comes to accessing medicinal cannabis.

But the best campaigns harness a narrative and steer it in a direction that brings more people onboard. Think global warming (easy to mischaracterize every time there’s a severe winter weather event) vs climate change (a much wider appeal and harder to deny).

From a PR standpoint, the medical cannabis narrative is it’s getting easier to access and that’s a good thing. And sometimes the best thing to do with a runaway horse is to climb on board and steer it as best you can.

So I’d suggest the communications strategy when the final decision is announced should be to focus on the positives:

  • Cannabis is now a mainstream medicine
  • It’s becoming easier for patients to get hold of it
  • They can be sure what they’re buying is safe and effective

As its name implies, news typically connotes the presentation of new information. And the big, shiny piece of new information is that patients will be able to ask their pharmacist for cannabis next year. Whether they have any in stock is an entirely different question.

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