The office of Drug Control has confirmed that a single licensing scheme for medicinal cannabis firms will begin on Christmas Eve after new legislation was formerly rubber stamped by the government.
The new streamlined framework will finally eliminate the administrative burden of applying for separate licences for cultivation and production, research and manufacture of medicinal cannabis. Instead, a single licence will be required, and most will be perpetual, meaning they will have no fixed end date.
Industry bodies were informed of the timeframe this week, with the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA) due to meet with the ODC on Thursday.
Cannabiz has also approached Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia (MCIA) for comment.
The start date will bring an end to a lengthy process that has been 27 months in the making.
Simplifying the licensing system was among the recommendations of Professor John McMillan in his 2019 review of the Narcotic Drugs Act.
Reform was formally introduced under the Narcotic Drugs Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill which went before the commonwealth parliament in February and received royal assent on June 24.
At that time, the ODC said the amendments “must commence by December 24 at the latest”, but indicated it did not expect it would need six months to prepare the new framework.
However, the federal executive council has only just formally ratified the amendments, with commencement on Christmas Eve.
The development will be welcomed by the industry which has long lamented the administrative hoops it has been forced to jump through.
New entrants, who have yet to begin the licensing process, will be especially buoyed by the changes.
In July, the ODC said the amendments will reduce the regulatory burden on companies, provide greater clarity and eliminate duplicate processes.
“The changes maintain the careful balance the act strikes between facilitating cultivation, production and manufacturing of medicinal cannabis, and implementing Australia’s obligations under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to safeguard against illegal practices and provide for safe and sustainable pathways for patient access to medicinal cannabis,” it said.
The ODC stressed, however, that it did not mean every licence holder can cultivate, produce and manufacture cannabis.
Under the new structure, each licence will specify the activities which are authorised.
“This is because some aspects of the licensing process depend on which of these activities are proposed,” the ODC said. “For example, manufacturing may require different security arrangements to cultivation.”
It added: “This structure gives more flexibility to expand the coverage of the licence depending on the circumstances of each licence holder, rather than requiring a licence holder to apply for separate licences for different parts of the cannabis lifecycle.
“Licensees can apply for a variation to add an activity at any time, for example, to add manufacturing to a single licence that only authorises cultivation.”