Decision Maker Response

Catherine King’s response

May 15, 2019 — Thank you for signing the change.org petition to ‘Fix Dan’s Law’ and boost access to medicinal cannabis for patients around Australia.

I’m writing to let you know that’s exactly what a Shorten Labor Government will do.

Unlike the Liberals, Labor understands that there is evidence to support the use of medicinal cannabis for a range of conditions, and believes that the federal government should play a national leadership role in expanding access.

We also understand that the alternative to regulated access isn’t other therapies – it’s the uncertainties and dangers of the black market, particularly for desperate parents. That’s why Labor wants to give appropriate medicinal cannabis users the opportunity to transition from unregulated to regulated products. This transition is particularly urgent for Australians who are terminally ill.

Labor has led the national debate on medicinal cannabis, even from Opposition. Over the last two terms, Labor has:

- Introduced legislation for a national medicinal cannabis scheme, eventually forcing the Liberals to do the same;

- Worked with the Senate to ensure access to medicinal cannabis for terminally ill Australians (although this was subsequently blocked by the Liberals – a move which a Labor Government will overturn); and

- Forced assurances from the Liberals on Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) processing times and Commonwealth-state processes.

But Labor understands that these steps are not enough. The TGA’s own figures show that it has approved just 4,200 applications to access medicinal cannabis under the Special Access Scheme, with next to none in Tasmania and the Northern Territory – compared to estimates that over 100,000 Australians could benefit from medicinal cannabis.

That’s why a Shorten Labor Government will task the Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis with developing options to:

- Build even more evidence for medicinal cannabis, including through facilitating Australian research, a potential Commonwealth trial, and consideration of overseas experience;

- Increase prescribing rates (where appropriate) by educating and training clinicians on medicinal cannabis;

- Reduce red tape, including by streamlining duplicative processes in the remaining states and territories, and by improving the operation, timeliness and coordination of the Office of Drug Control and other regulators;

- Address the current barriers to TGA and Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) applications for medicinal cannabis, which will be crucial to improving access and affordability; and

- Respond to any advice from the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs on the global treatment of cannabis.

Labor will receive and act on this advice by the end of 2019. We will also review the membership of the Council and appoint representatives to ensure it reflects the views of patients, advocates and industry.

At this stage Labor believes that regulating medicinal cannabis within the usual TGA system is the most appropriate way to build clinical confidence, which is crucial to expanding access. If doctors are not assured by the TGA that medicinal cannabis products are safe and effective, prescribing rates will not increase, and patients will continue to be denied access.

The fledgling Australian medicinal cannabis industry has also warned against fundamental regulatory change at this time. Labor wants to encourage competition and choice in the domestic medicinal cannabis market, which will contribute to a consistent and affordable supply of product over time.

However, Labor also acknowledges the view of many patients and advocates that the TGA system will never be fit-for-purpose for medicinal cannabis. This view has emerged after years of frustration under the Liberals.

A Shorten Labor Government will therefore review implementation of the above changes by the end of 2020, and consider more fundamental changes to Australia’s regulatory regime if access has not improved substantially.

Once again, thank you for your advocacy on this issue. Only Labor will provide national leadership on medicinal cannabis and improve access for patients around Australia.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine King
Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare