The Commonwealth Government response to the 2020 Senate Inquiry into current barriers to patient access to medicinal cannabis has been tabled.
As expected, the Government agrees with the recommendations it has already implemented, and commits itself to few other specific changes while indicating it will explore some potential reforms.
Recommendation 11 – calling on Tasmania to join the rest of the country and allow access to medicinal cannabis – was worth putting to the Government regardless of the fact that the Commonwealth can’t compel Tasmania to do so. The Government response, therefore, is that it’s up to the Tasmanians to take action.
Recommendation 8 regarding SAS-B paperwork is promising. The Government will now investigate changes so that multiple, similar products can be approved in the same application to help mitigate product supply interruptions. That would be great.
The response to Recommendation 9 about Authorised Prescribers (APs) is also encouraging. The Government will now explore the potential for the TGA to assess and approve AP applications in addition to HRECs, and look at ways to simplify the application process.
This would be a big improvement. Right now, there are few HRECs that doctors can be confident will take their AP application seriously. And the few that are known to the medicinal cannabis community are swamped with applications and can be expensive to use.
Other recommendations feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. For example, Recommendations 12 and 13 ask the Government to review the scheduling of CBD and act on those reviews. That was already going to happen – the TGA proposed that in their submission to the inquiry and during the public hearings, that’s why it was brought up at all.
I believe it was the creation of this Senate Inquiry that motivated the TGA to proactively explore the down-scheduling of CBD. So, the recommendations were unnecessary, but the inquiry can still take some credit for this regulatory change.
The Senate Inquiry was politically powerful – it kept medicinal cannabis on the agenda, kept the pressure on the politicians, and empowered patient advocates. But we will need to wait and see what long-term impacts it actually produces.
The Government has indicated it will explore some potentially useful improvements to the current access pathways. None of this is set in stone just yet.
Advocates and pro-reform politicians will need to keep the Government’s nose to the grindstone on this one.