Gail Wiseman

Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA) general manager Gail Wiseman looks ahead to the body’s strategic planning meeting later this month, and talks to the board about what they hope to achieve from it.

Like Cannabiz, AMCA celebrates its second birthday today.

And as we enter our third year of operation, our first major initiative is a strategic planning meeting bringing together leaders in the field, from researchers and advocates to healthcare practitioners and industry bosses. 

Invitees include Professor Iain McGregor, Dr Alex Wodak, Dr Judith Lacey, Dr Janet Schloss and other key stakeholders, as well as members of AMCA, the Society of Cannabis Clinicians Australian Chapter (SCCAC) and the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA).

AMCA chair Lucy Haslam and like-minded individuals held a similar Australian Medical Cannabis Alliance meeting in 2017, when interested parties came together to discuss barriers to patient access. Key issues raised at that meeting fed into the Senate Inquiry into Barriers to Patient Access in early 2020.

Lucy Haslam - Medical Cannabis Australia - Cannabiz
Lucy Haslam

Haslam said: “The purpose of this five to 10-year strategic planning meeting is to discuss the many barriers and issues still facing patients and to develop potential solutions to take to the new Labor Government, and, potentially, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).”

Other institutions AMCA plans to take solutions to include the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

Top of the list for discussion are the 20 recommendations coming out of the Senate Inquiry report released on March 26, 2020, many of which have still not been addressed.

The education of healthcare practitioners was the first, with the committee recommending that the Department of Health (DoH), in collaboration with the AMA, RACGP and other specialist colleges and professional bodies, develop targeted education and public awareness campaigns to reduce the stigma around medicinal cannabis within the community.

Although the response of the previous government was that the “DoH would assess the interest of the AMA and RACGP and other colleges in developing education and public awareness campaigns” and “…funding arrangements would need to be identified in competition with other public health priorities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic”, no action has been taken.

Dr Tamara Nation

AMCA clinical board director and SCCAC advisory panel member Dr Tamara Nation said SCCAC has, instead, taken the lead by developing an independent RACGP-accredited online education course, funded by industry through educational grants.

“We cannot keep waiting to provide balanced education to general practitioners, most of whom have never had medicinal cannabis included in their curricula,” she added.

Access and affordability remains one of the key concerns for patients in Australia.

AMCA board director Justin Sinclair announced the Compass compassionate access program at United In Compassion’s Australian Medicinal Cannabis Symposium in May. 

He said a key topic at the planning meeting will be how to secure government support to seed fund the scheme so it can be truly national, involving industry, significant numbers of patients and their healthcare practitioners.

Justin Sinclair

Potential avenues for government reimbursement for medically prescribed cannabis, whether through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) or Medicare, will also be discussed.

And high on the agenda is the continuing challenge of funding for veterans for indications such as PTSD which, unlike pain, is still not funded by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).

Although it is hoped that this inequity will be included in recommendations coming out of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicides, AMCA sees this as an urgent need that should be raised as soon as possible with the new government.

Of ongoing concern are the unfair driving laws which disadvantage Australian patients legitimately prescribed medicinal cannabis.

In contrast to opioids and benzodiazepines, which are not included in drug-driving tests despite having strong narcotic effects, patients with even a trace of THC can lose their licences, be fined and/or face criminal prosecution. Members of the Drive Change initiative will be participating in the planning meeting.

Teresa Nicoletti - Cannabis Australia - Cannabiz
Dr Teresa Nicoletti

It will also include a discussion on the potential impact of adult-use legalisation on the medicinal cannabis industry.

AMCA co-founder and company secretary Dr Teresa Nicoletti said: “Although recreational cannabis has not yet been legalised in Australia, there is little doubt that it will be eventually, and this could have a significant impact on the medicinal cannabis industry as well as the quality of products being offered to patients.”

She added there are key learnings from Canada to be shared.

The potential value of Australia’s medicinal cannabis industry will also be an important topic to discuss with the new government.

AMCA industry board director Emily Rigby said: “It is imperative that we communicate to the new Labor Government the full potential of this industry.

Emily Rigby

“It has every prospect of being the next sugar cane or wine industry, but for that to happen, the government will need to support it by further simplifying regulations and requirements.

“Progress has already been made in levelling the playing field, but further support for the local industry will enable its growth at this critical point in its establishment.”

Dr Nicoletti said she is hopeful that bringing together a broad range of experts from the sector, and the prospect of a more open-minded new government, will help ensure the environment for patients and industry will be a more positive one by the time AMCA celebrates its third birthday.