The Australian state of Tasmania launched a new medical cannabis program on September 1, 2017, and it’s unlike many others of its kind. At Medicine Man Technologies, we typically see medical marijuana programs include a long list of qualifying conditions, new infrastructure requirements, as well as a litany of regulations for cultivation, distribution, licensing and sales. Tasmania’s program is far less formal, and so far, a lack of foundation seems to be hindering the ability of patients to get the medicine they need.
According to a report by ABC Australia, the Tasmanian Medicinal Cannabis Controlled Access Scheme is being stalled by widespread confusion and too much paperwork. During the first month of the program, just three applications have been submitted to the Health Department with none approved at this time, and there is no further information available as to when any decisions will be made.
So, what exactly is the holdup? Once you look into how this new program works, the issues are more than apparent. While a more experimental approach can certainly be appreciated, Tasmania’s absence of infrastructure may ultimately hurt the patients for whom the scheme was created.
About the Medicinal Cannabis Controlled Access Scheme
When Tasmania launched a new medical cannabis program, it was a step forward. Its intent is to enable patients to seek a prescription for unregistered medical cannabis after other medicines and treatments were unsuccessful. Prescriptions in pill form, oral drops, topicals and mouth sprays would be filled by a Tasmanian Health Service hospital pharmacy. Smoking and growing medical marijuana are not allowed.
Now, putting this into practice becomes more complicated.
A patient must first consult with their general practitioner (GP) and be referred to a relevant medical specialist who will then determine whether or not medical cannabis would be an appropriate treatment for the condition and patient. Next comes hours of paperwork which is then submitted to the Health Department for review. Finally, each application is evaluated and approved on a case-by-case basis.
If and when the specialist is given the green light to prescribe, one interesting benefit of the program is that the patient will only pay the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (available to all Australian residents) co-payment of $40. All other costs for the program will be subsidized by the Tasmanian government.
Beyond the process to seek and fulfill a prescription for medical cannabis are a number of other issues that many feel the program will need to overcome to ensure its success. They include:
- Qualifying Conditions – There is no specific list of conditions that qualify for medical cannabis. While a lack of restrictions might seem like a benefit, it leaves a lot to be determined by GPs, specialists and the Health Department. Two patients suffering from the exact same debilitating condition may have completely different outcomes.
- Lack of Knowledge – According to the government flowchart for practitioners, specialists are required to consider their expertise and qualifications to recommend medical cannabis. They must also review evidence of the potential effectiveness in context with a patient’s condition, and perform a risk/benefit analysis in regard to safety, quality and efficacy.
With doctors facing such a tall order, it’s no wonder that in the ABC article, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who was denied by her specialist had this to say, “My neurologist refuses to prescribe, he says there’s not enough research, not enough evidence, he’s not at all willing.”
- Long Waits for Patients – As the program rolls out in the coming month, there is concern that case-by-case application reviews will create a massive bottleneck and force patients to wait an undetermined amount of time to receive the medication they need.
Now that Tasmania launched a new medical cannabis program, the Medicine Man Technologies team is interested in seeing whether or not this new approach to a medical marijuana program actually has the ability to flourish. While we hope that Australian patients will receive the care they deserve, it remains to be seen whether or not this less formal program will actually be able to meet their needs.