Back in September 2016, the Australian government decided to legalize medical cannabis across all six states. While it was surely welcomed news to those in need, the crating of regulations has also created concern. People like Lucy Haslam, co-founder of the pro-cannabis organization United in Compassion, have expressed fears about heavy regulations leading to excessive pricing for patients.
Those fears seemed to have spread to the southern island state of Tasmania. As the local government gears up to spend 3.75 million on its medicinal cannabis “scheme” (as the Aussies call it), patients are worried that prices will grossly exceed the black market.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation recently shared the story of John Reeves, a man who treats his chronic pain with cannabis, while also running a support group for others who are seeking treatment. Under the government's scheme, Reeves believes that medical marijuana would cost almost five times more than on the black market.
Although advocates have pushed to allow patients to grow their own medical cannabis at home, Stuart Day, the president of the state’s Australian Medical Association, believes that it should only be prescribed through specialist doctors.
According to Health Minister Michael Ferguson, children suffering from epilepsy will be the first to be enlisted into the medical cannabis program. However, affordability will be a major factor for most of these families, and high prices would likely deter some parents from acquiring cannabis through legal channels.
The medical program will officially start in beginning of September, but only for patients with severe epilepsy. The Tasmanian Greens Party has also raised concerns about the policy being too restrictive.
Questions have been raised about how partients with cancer, terminal illness, and other relevant conditions could benefit from medical cannabis. Unfortunately, Ferguson is hesitant to extend the list of patients, citing the lack of scientifically proven benefits and the unwillingness of general practitioners recommend it as a treatment as reasons to keep the medical cannabis scheme strictly regulated.
In both Tasmania and throughout Australia as a whole, the government is taking very incremental steps towards medical legalization. Still, the longer they wait to open up treatment to more patients, the more lives will continue to hang in the balance.