Generalists in Tasmania will soon be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis, but rapid access is still a long way off
Tasmanians will soon be able to visit their GP and request a prescription for medicinal cannabis. But if the state government says this option will be available from July 1, it might not be that simple.
Tasmania is the only jurisdiction in Australia where general practitioners cannot prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients. Patients can only have legal access to this medicine through a specialist doctor, such as a neurologist.
From September 2017 to August 2020, only 16 Tasmanians were legally prescribed medicinal cannabis through the state's controlled access program. Medicinal cannabis advocates and politicians including Tasmanian MLC Ivan Dean and Tasmanian Labor Senators Anne Urquhart and Catryna Bilyk have long called for the Tasmanian diet to be improved. A Senate commission of inquiry tasked with studying "current barriers to patient access to medicinal cannabis in Australia" also recommended early last year that the state align with other jurisdictions.
On Monday, the government of Tasmania announced in his State of the State address that he was going to do so.
So how will the changes to the controlled access program work?
From July 1, general practitioners in Tasmania will be able to apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for permission to prescribe medicinal cannabis to their patients.
General practitioners will have to make an individual request for each patient through the national simplified online request procedure and they will be authorized to prescribe or not within 48 hours.
Patients who are prescribed medicinal cannabis by a general practitioner can then have their prescriptions filled by private pharmacies.
Currently, all medicinal cannabis prescribed under the Controlled Access Program is distributed through Tasmanian Health Service pharmacies, hospitals, at a rate heavily subsidized by the state government. Specialists will still be able to prescribe cannabis as part of these changes and it is understood that patients who obtain prescriptions in this manner will continue to receive drugs at a subsidized rate.
What do the advocates of medicinal cannabis think?
Lyn Clever, a mother from northern Tasmania, has been trying to get her son enrolled in the controlled access program since its launch in 2017, believes that in its current form, the system is pushing people to turn to the black market and that 'It is necessary to make changes. She said: “Getting an appointment with a specialist takes a long time, up to a year. It is a good thing that now patients can talk to their doctor and many patients will seek to use this new provision. But the main problem remains that of the availability of the product and its cost still too high for people receiving disability benefits.
Dr Tim Jackson, president of the Tasmanian branch of the Royal Australian College of Practitioners, said that while there is no doubt that some general practitioners will agree to prescribe medical cannabis, many of them will first need learn more on the subject.
Ms O'Byrner, president of the Tasmanian branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, said the change was good news, but there is still work to be done. The production was not yet available and the importation remains complex.
"This means that the doctor and pharmacist will have to request to import this specific product for the patient and obtain special authorization from the government"
She said that consultation is still expected to take place between the Tasmanian government, pharmacists and doctors before the changes are implemented and that in the near future the state government is also expected to consider how people using drug medical cannabis prescribed, could use a motor vehicle. She would also like better legal protection for people who have no choice but to grow their own medical cannabis.