I get high well with a little help from my friends
After years of debate in the Federal Parliament, on 30 October 2016, it became legal to grow cannabis in Australia for medicinal purposes. This long-anticipated loosening of the availability of medicinal cannabis has provided many patients living with painful and chronic illnesses with the availability of new treatments and choices that were not previously accessible. That said, the acceptance of the government to recognise the medicinal qualities of cannabis does not mean that the process of becoming a grower has now become as easy as sowing a couple marijuana seeds into your vegetable patch – the cultivation of cannabis is still highly regulated by the Federal and State Governments under various legislation.
Notwithstanding these policy developments, cannabis is still classed as an illicit narcotic drug in Australia, and cultivation for any purpose other than those which are allowed through a licence or permit under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (as amended by the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act 2016) is a criminal offence. In New South Wales, it is an offence under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 to manufacture or produce, or willingly take part in the manufacture or production of, a prohibited drug. This includes cannabis, with the exception of a person who is licenced to grow the prohibited plant. The maximum penalty for illegal manufacture of cannabis is 10 years imprisonment or 2000 penalty units ($220,000).
As a medicine, cannabis products are regulated by the Office of Drug Control (ODC) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), who regulate the access to therapeutic goods, and the quality of therapeutic goods. Both bodies are a part of the Australian Government Department of Health. A person or company must have a medicinal cannabis or cannabis licence, which is issued by the ODC, to obtain the right to lawfully cultivate and harvest cannabis for medicinal purposes. A permit to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes must also be obtained, which will indicate how much, and what type of crops can be grown, as well as who the cannabis must be passed onto once it is grown.
The requirements that must be met to be granted a licence are quite extensive, and place heavy restrictions on the manufacturing and harvesting rights of licence and permit holders. All applicants must pass a ‘fit and proper person’ test, which involves an assessment of factors including whether the applicant has a criminal background or any association with any criminal organisations (most likely as a safeguard to prevent the cultivated cannabis from being sold in the black market), the suitability of the applicant to possess a licence, and the adequacy of financial security to ensure the continued
Since the amendments allowing for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis in Australia, only 25 licences have been granted under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 for the cultivation of cannabis. Of this number, 13 licences have been granted for the cultivation and production of medicinal cannabis. These figures are an accurate representation of the strict policies that the Federal Government currently has in place in dealing with this continuing issue.
The debate with respect to the cultivation and use of medicinal cannabis is far from over. Unlike the US, it seems highly likely that the Australian cannabis market will continue to be tightly controlled from the production, cultivation and harvest of crops, to the supply of the drugs under a prescription. It may be years before legislation is loosened further to allow for easier manufacture and access to medicinal cannabis in the community, begging the question as to whether a fundamental deprivation of liberty exists for the greater community.
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