Mark Butler has come under renewed fire for failing to back a nationwide medicinal cannabis compassionate access scheme, with the Labor health minister accused of saying one thing in opposition and backtracking now his party is in power.

The Liberal chair of the cross-party Parliamentary Friends of Medicinal Cannabis Group, Warren Entsch, described the government’s refusal to seed fund the scheme as “frustrating and disappointing”.

Warren Entsch: frustrated and disappointed

Meanwhile, Lucy Haslam, chair of the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA), which launched the Compass initiative, issued a fresh statement, claiming the minister has U-turned on previous statements of support.

AMCA initially met Butler in November to request government help in subsidising patients who are unable to afford their cannabis medication.

Yet despite Butler acknowledging that the cost of cannabis “continues to be a significant access barrier for many patients”, the plea for seed funding was rejected.

As reported last week by Cannabiz, the minister said the Department of Health and Aged Care “is not able to fund such programs at this time”.

Entsch said Butler had previously backed a recommendation in the 2020 medicinal cannabis senate inquiry – when Labor was in opposition – to establish a compassionate access scheme.

“Minister Butler said in 2021 that he fully supported [the recommendation]. It seems this may just have been lip service on the part of the minister who is now in government and in a position to make this happen,” the veteran MP said. “Instead he has rejected the proposal.

“As someone who has always supported medicinal cannabis it is frustrating and disappointing. A very inexpensive option for the government has the potential to help many patients. This is a great initiative by industry for a cause that should be above politics.”

Haslam said the government had turned its back on an opportunity to help some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“I am disappointed and surprised by the minister’s response in refusing seed funding for a program that would help the most vulnerable… including patients who are dying and children with intractable epilepsy,” she said.

“It was an opportunity for the government to do something meaningful, with minimal effort and funding. Minister Butler supported this recommendation of the senate inquiry… but now he is in a position to actually do something, he has done an about face.

“I have communicated the minister’s decision to the Parliamentary Friends of Medicinal Cannabis Group and together we will continue advocating for improved access with the government.”

In his letter to AMCA, Butler recognised the high cost of medicinal cannabis and reiterated previous advice for companies to register products on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).

Steve has reported for a number of consumer and B2B titles over a journalism career spanning more than three decades. He is a regulator contributor to health journal, The Medical Republic, writing on...

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