Australia Cannabis Law Reform 2015 -2016 – Favoring Pharmaceuticals and Not Patients

Loren Wiener – Melbourne Australia – This week in weed tv

Note: Marijuana vs Cannabis
Some Australians are particularly sensitive to the word “Marijuana”, as it relates to racist and prejudice beginnings. However, Cannabis as a word is very confusing in Australia in 2016. So Cannabis here is the same as Marijuana except when it is not.

If a Government had a mandate, that they were not going to legalise what they refer to as “crude, illegal full spectrum natural Cannabis, but wanted to legalize “something medicinal like Cannabis” and then handed the challenge to their own Department of Health (DOH) that has been and still heavily immersed for years with the pharmaceutical industry, very anti-Cannabis, for prohibition and receiving millions in pharmaceutical Cannabis “products” for equally as long what would it look like? This is Australia Cannabis Law Reform 2016.

Australia Make-up – Australian Government is conservative, only has 6 states, is about the same size as the continental USA, and with a population of approximately 24 million is about 1/13th that of the USA and with relatively little crime per capita, per UNODC statistics (1) unlike the USA. Currently Australia is in election mode, with elections declared for July 2016, there are 2 major parties that usually form government, the Australia Labor Party and the Coalition which is a grouping of the Liberals Party and the National Party. The states are similar, but not necessarily aligned. Currently states New South Wales, Western Australia, and Tasmania, are Liberal and Victoria, South Australia and Queensland are Labor.

The impact of this is the Government addresses the framework, the states can theoretically decide to legalise Cannabis or not. Unfortunately for the public no state has done this only legalised the process for pharmaceutical un-natural products.

Loren-1Medical Cannabis Focus– To limit numbers greatly, the focus for access to Cannabis has been announced to be primarily those with Dravet syndrome in minors, a rare condition that causes seizures. It is estimated there are very few in Australia with this condition and so far all are only getting single pharma cannabinoid CBD such as Epidiolex by GW UK. Pharmaceutical “Cannabis Products” were legalised in the USA in 2006, 10 years after full spectrum Cannabis was legalised in California for medicinal use in 1996. As a result, pharmaceutical products and the new breed of synthetics and GMO, Cannabis were not much on the radar or viewed as competition. This also meant the whole Pharmaceutical Industry had 20 years after California to prepare for the day the Australian Government had to address Cannabis Law Reform. Unlike the USA Cannabis prohibition was not impacted by USA politics prior to Richard Nixon in 1975 when our war on drugs began for the first time. Prior to that, even our founding fathers such as Sir Joseph Banks, viewed Australia as a potential large hemp farm so valuable was the plant when they landed in Australia in 1770.

Loren-2Full Spectrum Cannabis Vs Single Cannabinoids – As we will see, with Australian Government fighting to prevent the approval of anything with full spectrum natural Cannabis with THC, instead focusing on new and some untested pharmaceutical products that really do need the benefit of testing and trials many only manufactured in the last 2 years. The result is the belief from the general public that testing is being done for Cannabis not pharmaceuticals that are single spectrum cannabinoids. Science tells us that based on something called the “rage effect”. Full spectrum Cannabis contains over 400 elements and approximately 110 known cannabinoids, and has a natural ratio of THC and CBD especially. Together this natural combination is great medicine that treats many ailments, as well as do the ‘terpenes’ ‘flavonoids’ ‘terpenoids’ in the plant. This is all missed when Cannabis elements are extracted. Ironically the science behind this was discovered by the scientists and pharmaceutical companies that are making and selling the single cannabinoid products. The result with single cannabinoids like CBD, is it only treats a few conditions well but otherwise viewed more as a tonic than a medicine. This compared to natural Cannabis that treats those same conditions and many more. This has impacted the general public that have moved on from CBD only products years ago as was the case with Charlotte’s Web Strains in the USA (10).


High Interest in Medical Cannabis – According to recent October 2015 statistics, a staggering 91% of Australians over the age of 14, believe the use of Cannabis for medicinal purposes should now be legal (2). Prior to 2015, Australia has seen little interest or legislative progress in Cannabis Law reform. The highest amount of agreement is in those Australians over the age of 50 at 94%, and the lowest between the age of 14-24.

Not So Fast– With that sort of information, you would think would be a simple thing to move forward to Cannabis Law reform.  Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry is well embedded in the Australian Government and Industry, with pharmaceutical exports valued at over $4billion in 2012-2013, it remains one of Australia major exports.  Most do not know that Australia produces over half the world’s prescription opiates. Currently there are over 70 poppy farmers in the States of Victoria / Tasmania, with crops in higher numbers than ever before (3) and expected to remain so for the next 7 years. Likewise, Australia consumes a lot of pharmaceuticals and is ranked 12th in the world. This long time relationship between Australia and the Pharmaceutical industry means as Australia looked to address Cannabis Law Reform the Pharmaceutical industry has come first as they have also acted as consultants and provided the government with over $700,000 per year in pharmaceutical Cannabis for testing and trials.

New Bills / Acts and Laws Changes

Loren-4Increased Cannabis Laws and Penalties in Australia 2016 –  As with many things from cars to the Internet, Australia has evolved different than the rest of the world, and Cannabis law reform is no different. As reform moves closer, the penalties for possession has also increased in 2015 and 2016. This has also seen a large increase in unreliable road side saliva testing they is causing bottlenecks in courts across the country.

DPSA Bill Victoria 2016 – A new bill passed in Feb 2016 (5) positioned as changes to laws to combat the growing amphetamine problem in Australia (ICE) actually had well-hidden “rider” clauses that actually introduced 7 new laws against many other drugs including Cannabis. Known as the DPCSA Bill 2015/2016 the new laws went as far as offering 5 years’ prison for possession of books, magazines, looking at websites or emails on Cannabis. For producing or sharing such material the penalty is 10 years’ prison. Possession of Cannabis itself is rated depending on the weight, but with the introduction of the new laws any possession near schools carries even larger fines regardless if it is to a child, an adult, or in or out of school hours. Additionally, the distance around schools this would apply to, also increased to 500m other laws have to do with landlords allowing production etc. Like many laws in Australia, the government has no responsibility to notify the public of the changes in the law, so many do not know they or their friends and family members are now criminals, the bill passed 33-6 with little debate on 8 February 2016 due to the hidden nature of the rider clauses.

Access to Cannabis Bill – Victoria 2015-16 (6) – Passed in March 2016, the bill looks to address how access to medical Cannabis would look. Being the state like all others are 100% THC adverse, this required an actual change to the definition of the word ‘Cannabis’. Specifically, in clause 3,   where Cannabis is believed by most to be the genus botanical name for marijuana it now includes all parts of the plant, while medicinal Cannabis now means cultivated or manufactured Cannabis, and medicinal Cannabis product manes anything “approved” that is from medical Cannabis. As Victoria is a Labor party state, this meant the federal government made over 400 amendments to the bill to align it with present and soon to be released federal acts, laws, and bills a record it is believed.

Loren-5Federal Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 Bill 2016 – (7) – Passed on 24 Feb 2016 – looked to address and was sold as the framework for Cannabis to be imported and potentially exported to an in cultivation of Cannabis. However, in detail it offers a very complicated process requiring multiple licenses and permits and requires a relationship between a grower and a pharmaceutical manufacture to progress and currently imposes another layer where the product type grown has to be in line with Federal suggestions and market requirement to progress at all.  Additionally, to address the new pharmaceutical products, a change to the definition of the word Cannabis was also required. Details of exactly what products will be allowed were also deferred. This bill also formerly kills a 2014 bill, the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2014 (or Weed Czar Bill) that had looked to bypass the TGA (Therapeutics Drug Administration) similar to the FDA in the USA. It suggested Cannabis should not be positioned with other drug laws as it is not a drug, this bill quashed that. Instead, to align Australia with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971), and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988), and as Australia grows 52% of the world’s opium poppies for opiates, Australia essentially is mirroring this out of date process for Cannabis, even if it does not contain THC. The bill suggests it would take years to progress through trials. All such importation also has to meet certain controls and quality assurances that per the bill makes those products hard to obtain. Other access methods are possible but per the bill no one has been approved though it has been in place for some time. The impact means that Australia has to pre-determine and have agreed how much Cannabis it will grow in advance. For the consumer this means all access to Cannabis is limited to schemes or trials with no THC or via special access that have few if any participants as it is controlled by Law Enforcement not health, and there have been many arrests reported to those that have signed up.

The government has said, that products allowed are not currently available on the black market would not be products that are able to be smoked. This again indicates full spectrum Cannabis is not going to be allowed. The Australia Medical Association has pushed for pharmaceutical products with years of testing. To facilitate the use of pharmaceutical non-natural Cannabis, again the definition of the word “Cannabis “had to be changed. Specifically, “medicinal Cannabis products” are now anything that contains any element of Cannabis including synthetics, and non-natural single cannabinoid derivatives

Queensland Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill May 2016 (8) –  Is slightly different in tone than other bills. It considers Cannabis a harmful drug of dependence akin to heroin, and is relenting to offer trials only where the pharmaceutical products are already authorized by the TGA. Though synthetics and even possibly GMO have been used they have never been addressed as such only alluded to. In this bill for the first time Synthetics are addressed in the ongoing changes to the definition of the word “Cannabis” to include anything that acts like Cannabis including synthetic cannabinoids. In keeping with other states laws and penalties are also increased. Any persons included in any trials or using medical Cannabis must forfeit their driver’s license even if there is no THC.

Other Issues

Home Cultivation, and Decriminalisation – Currently growing or possessing any Cannabis is illegal, laws vary by state and are quite harsh. Law enforcement have some flexibility as a result consistency varies a lot in police tolerance and also varies a lot by state. There are no plans or bills that currently address legalisation or decriminalisation.

Private Funded Medical Cannabis Initiative (9) With success in treating his granddaughter with full spectrum Cannabis one of Australia’s richest men donated $34m for Medical Cannabis research.  It was quickly discovered this research was being led by a team trained by one of the largest pharmaceutical groups in the world, as a result ignoring full spectrum Cannabis, instead chose, “To use chemistry and years of testing” furthering a view of ONLY pharmaceutical Cannabis, and also based at the same Australia University that calls NDARC (National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre), home and sets the tone for Australia politics and law reform in 2015 and 2016.


Australia NDARC and NCPIC – Both funded by the Australia DOH have different but complimentary roles. NDARC has been around for 27 years, and has a large focus on generating funds for research and is involved in policy on behalf of the DOH with a goal of prevention.  NDARC’s view is more testing is needed but also had a view that any use of Cannabis or Medicinal Cannabis should be preferably avoided all together. NCPIC – Another wing of the Australian DOH propaganda machine, the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre goal as it says on the label is prevention. Similar in message to DARE in the USA their view is to use all information and papers sourced primarily in house from others financed by the DOH, or using older references and documents. This information is also used to comment on policy and government use this misinformation as factual to address bills and law reform. The end result is a confused public, confused politicians and as Cannabis is not treated like alcohol in the course of prevention, is not well respected.

Summary –  Misinformation and the wrong path – Whilst Australia has ‘relented’ that there is a growing body of evidence about the therapeutic potential of medicinal Cannabis it has chosen to force the focus on new yet untested isolated cannabinoids instead of full spectrum Cannabis, and only for selective testing. Patient advocacy is not covered in any aspects of any legislature. The trials on new pharmaceutical products instead of Cannabis are also due to take 5 or more years. There are no plans to use full-spectrum Cannabis. This is despite signaling out of the sick and dying that have benefited, stating as they have done so well on “crude, illegal, black market, Cannabis” so they are legalising “Medical Cannabis Products”. These single cannabinoid vs full spectrum Cannabis products work for very few and often not very long per medical reports and those from parents and patients (10). As the Australian Government controls what the media can say in these matters declaring much of it security matters the public is generally not aware for instance that the recent announcement of new penalties, laws, and changes in the definition of even what Cannabis is anymore has evolved to include synthetics, single cannabinoids and GMO. With 91% of the population being for medical Cannabis and 66% for recreational use, all that is currently happening is the creation of more and more criminals out of growers, caregivers, users and patients and without the population being made aware of this.


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