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Showdown On Imported Cannabis Hits Australia

Written by Marguerite Arnold

Australia has begun slowly allowing cannabis imports – but a new showdown in Parliament puts distributors in jeopardy.

Have trade wars finally hit the cannabis industry? It appears that they have, down under…

Australia, like Germany, has moved forward on implementing a domestic medical cannabis program that relies on domestic crops. They are also moving forward with clinical trials and wider study of the effects of the drug on many different chronic conditions.

However, in the meantime, there are dying patients to contend with. In Australia, these patients are under something called Special Access Scheme Category A. This means that they are both recognized as terminally ill and that death is a mere matter of months away.

In October last year, the government imposed restrictions on import, with the goal of limiting untested and unregulated cannabinoid medications into the country. Despite support from the Australian Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs, this has also had an unforeseen effect. What that has led to is apparently an almost total freeze on imports into the country – even from recognized distributors. The amount allowed in is only for very limited and specific purposes, including clinical trials. It does not allow cannabis to be imported for Category A patients.

As of May this year, medical importers delivered their first bulk import shipments.

And that is when things began to get messy. People who had already been told they had the right to use cannabis were broadly denied access. Even directly from distributors they had already been ordering from.

In June of this year, a group of senators – from a spectrum of political parties – tried to overturn current restrictions on the importation of cannabis-based medications for these terminally ill patients. In other words, they tried to allow importers to go back to the way things used to be before “legalization.” In other words, before the government legalized domestic production, importers were allowed to ship directly to approved patients on a case by case basis. That right, as of now, is clearly over. At least for now.

In fact, right after the passage of this amendment in the Senate, the government sent a strongly worded response to these importers. Their licenses would be suspended if they followed this new mandate from the Senate. In other words, importers are not allowed to supply patients directly. Further, what the Senate does and says, is not yet recognized as “law.” It remains to be seen what will happen next.

However the patient bottleneck, not to mention problems with implementation are nothing new, nor are they unique to Australia. Every legalizing market is facing the same issues.

The positive takeaway? This period will not last forever. The saddest one? There are a lot of people who will continue to suffer and die in the meantime.

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About the author

Marguerite Arnold