Australia Medical Marijuana Bill Approved By Parliament, Growing Cannabis Is Now Legal

John Houck

The government in Australia approved a measure that legalizes medical marijuana for people with painful and chronic diseases. The Australian Parliament amended the Narcotics Drugs Act to allow cannabis to be legally grown for both medical and scientific purposes.

The Minster for Health Sussan Ley says the move is unprecedented in Australia and a triumph for the many supporters who have been fighting to change the attitudes of the government towards medical marijuana. From now on, patients who use cannabis for medicinal purposes will not be treated as criminals.

Prior to his death in February of last year, Haslam suffered from terminal bowel cancer. He often used medical cannabis to relieve the pain and nausea from multiple chemotherapy sessions.

Medical marijuana advocacy group United in Compassion was founded by Haslam's mother, Lucy. Since its founding nearly two years ago, the organization has been a strong voice in the medical marijuana movement and has been petitioning the government to legalize it.

Shortly after the marijuana amendment vote, Australian Senator Richard Di Natale reminded everyone why the approval was so important.

"It is incredibly fitting that today we are passing this bill which is one step towards making medicinal cannabis accessible to people like Dan. Thank you to Lucy for everything you have done. Please know that your family's grief, pain and suffering has not been in vain and this is a legacy that Dan will leave here in Parliament."

The new change places marijuana in the same group as other restricted medicinal drugs like morphine. Patients with a doctor's prescription are allowed to obtain and use medical cannabis as long as it is purchased from a supplier approved under the Therapeutic Goods Act.

The Therapeutics Goods Administration will now attempt to clarify regulations and procedures on how the plant will be distributed to patients. The administration will use an independent advisory committee to help create another agency that will be charged with regulating medicinal marijuana.

"A national regulator will allow the government to closely track the development of cannabis products for medicinal use from cultivation to supply and curtail any attempts by criminals to get involved," Ley said.

According to United in Compassion, production licenses will need to be applied for before growing and distribution can begin. Suppliers will be scrutinized before issuance of a license and penalties are severe for misconduct. Physicians will also need to apply for approval to prescribe medical marijuana as well.

While the Australian law provides for a structure to create a legal supply chain, it is still up to the individual states to legalize medical marijuana and associated growers. According to Michael Katz of the University of Sydney Business School, many of the states will need to amend some of their laws before cannabis is legal, but many seem willing to do so.

Katz says passing such legislation by the Australian government will likely help avoid many of the legal ambiguities experienced in the United States. While some U.S. states, like Alaska, have legalized marijuana sales, the drug is still illegal under current federal law, which has created confusion about what is legal and what is not.

"What this means for Australia is when the states go through their process, they'll be doing so within a national framework," Katz noted. "As they approve things on their end, they'll be entering into an orderly process."

Many expect it will be at least six months before cannabis growers and suppliers will be able to apply for a license. While medical marijuana is now legal in Australia, the government still considers recreational weed illegal.

[Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images]