An attempt by One Nation to rip up the current regulatory framework for medicinal cannabis looks doomed after failing to win support from Labor and the coalition.
Last week, One Nation proposed legislation to scrap the Authorised Prescriber and Special Access schemes and replace them with a regime under which “any medical practitioner” would be allowed to prescribe the medicine to humans and animals.
The plan would also potentially pave the way for medicinal cannabis products to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
However, during a second reading of the Improving Access to Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2023 yesterday, Labor Senator Anne Urquhart told colleagues the government would not support it.
She said the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) had “serious concerns” with the bill, the impact of which had “not been carefully considered”.
She added: “The government considers this proposal to be inappropriate, as the current scheduling of these substances is the result of a long and well-considered process based on clinical evidence and expert advice.”
While Greens Senators David Shoebridge and Peter Whish-Wilson welcomed the debate, manager of opposition business in the Senate Anne Ruston told the chamber the coalition would join Labor in opposing the bill in its current form.
Earlier, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson told the Senate the growth in medicinal cannabis prescriptions since legalisation had shown there was a place for the medicine in Australian healthcare.
However, she added: “A system which worked quite well for only a few thousand scripts a year is under strain… Patients have more recently encountered increasing problems with accessing these products, along with other issues like product quality, availability and pricing.”
Hanson claimed these difficulties were behind a recent drop in prescription numbers and said the bill would improve access, reduce costs and make low-dose medicine available over the counter in pharmacies.
She called for more GP and veterinary education on the benefits of medicinal cannabis and for state and territory governments to “have another look at the way they test motorists for intoxication”.
She added: “The purpose is to ensure that motorists are not impaired or present a danger to themselves and others on the road.
“This should be based not on a chemistry test but on whether a driver is actually impaired, as it is evident that medicinal cannabis products can result in a positive drug test while not actually impairing the person being treated with them.”
She concluded: “With clear evidence that medicinal cannabis is effective in treating a wide range of conditions and… that it is in high demand in Australia, it is time to elevate it as the primary healthcare option it should be.”
Responding on behalf of the government, Urquhart, who is co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Medicinal Cannabis, said: “I am a supporter of the well-considered use of prescribed medicinal cannabis in appropriate circumstances and have been involved in Senate committee hearings inquiring into this matter.
“I’ve met and spoken with people who use medicinal cannabis on prescription to treat medical conditions, with positive results.
“This bill has the potential to undo much of the good work that is being done to give those who suffer from medical conditions access [to medicinal cannabis products] by… prescription.
“The scheduling of substances contained in medicinal cannabis products is the result of a very careful and considered assessment of the most appropriate pathways to access… based on available scientific knowledge, input from scheduling committees and expert clinical advice.
“I’m a great believer in science, and we should always look at the science closely.
“The impacts of this bill have not been carefully considered and do not reflect expert clinical views.”
She said the proposed down-scheduling of medicinal cannabis from schedule 8 to 4 would not allow any medical practitioner to prescribe as One Nation claimed.
“This is because Authorised Prescriber Scheme and Special Access Scheme approvals are required for most medicinal cannabis products, as they are not included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.
“To lawfully supply a therapeutic good that is not included in the register, one of the pathways for accessing unapproved goods, such as through the Special Access Scheme, Authorised Prescriber Scheme or Personal Importation Scheme, must be used.
“The rescheduling of the products would not change this in any way.”
The debate was adjourned.