One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts has proposed legislation to scrap the Authorised Prescriber (AP) scheme and potentially make medicinal cannabis products available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Under the Improving Access to Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2023, the AP scheme would be replaced with a regime under which “any medical practitioner” would be allowed to prescribe the medicine to humans and animals.
During the bill’s second reading, Roberts told the Senate it would “substantially improve Australians’ access to medicinal cannabis and create an avenue for the listing of cannabis on the PBS”.
He said while the current system had initially improved access, “issues with cost, availability, access and quality have made it hard for Australians to secure the right medicine for themselves or their pets”.
He added: “This has caused a reduction in uptake in recent months. As the name implies, [the bill] seeks to reverse this decline and ensure Australians and their pets can be prescribed appropriate medicinal cannabis treatments by doctors and veterinarians.”
Under the legislation, there would be no changes to the list of approved products under the Special Access Scheme, but the THC limit for hemp products would increase from 0.1% to 1%, bringing commonwealth law into line with the states, where the higher limit applies.
“At this level, THC can’t produce a hallucinogenic response,” Roberts told parliamentary colleagues.
Meanwhile, the bill would allow cannabis products with THC below 1% and CBD below 10% to be sold over the counter in a pharmacy or veterinarian to a person aged over 18.
“This would commonly create new ranges of products including oils and tinctures, capsules, creams and topicals, bath bombs, patches, nasal sprays and powders, most likely protein supplements with higher CBD than is allowed for a food product in the supermarket,” Roberts said.
Existing restrictions on providing medicinal cannabis treatments to children under 18 would be retained, with children unable to get a product over the counter.
“Doctors will of course be able to prescribe a cannabis product for a child if, in their medical opinion, it is in the best interests of the patient,” he said.
Current limits for THC and CBD in food products, as controlled by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), would be retained although the exemption from classification for food with low THC and low CBD would be extended to hemp seed as well as hemp oil.
“Many products currently available in supermarkets use hemp seed and hemp seed flour. The wording change is to add ‘hemp seed’ to the listing for hemp oil, which also covers hemp seed flour,” Roberts explained.
Wrapping up, he added: “Many Australians are seeking more natural medical treatments for themselves and their pets. It’s only natural for One Nation to put Australians first with this bill.”
The debate was adjourned.