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Patients still face hurdles to cannabis

AAP logoAAP 28/10/2016 Belinda Merhab

Australia's medicinal cannabis industry officially gets the green light next week but the woman instrumental in driving the changes warns it'll be a long time before patients see the benefits.

From November 1, cannabis for therapeutic use will become a controlled drug rather than a prohibited one.

People will also be able to apply for licences to grow and manufacture medicinal cannabis in Australia.

But Lucy Haslam, who became the face of the campaign for change after medicinal cannabis helped her late son Dan with the severe nausea caused by chemotherapy, says patients still face many hurdles to access.

"I've got a lot of calls from patients saying how do I get it," Ms Haslam told AAP.

"The reality is there's nothing to get yet."

Elaine Darby, chief executive of medicinal cannabis company AusCann, says patients should be able to start accessing Australian-grown cannabis from late 2017.

It's now up to other states and territories to enact their own legislation to enable access, as NSW and Queensland have done.

But Ms Haslam says access from late 2017 is the best-case scenario.

Once licences are granted, growers will need to import stock to get started, grow and manufacture the product, and then get it approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Until that happens, the only way to access medicinal cannabis is through the existing TGA special access scheme, which is complicated and "very problematic".

There's also the issue of educating doctors who will need to prescribe the cannabis as they have been reluctant to get on board.

"There's still quite a process that's going to take time - I think everyone is kind of making it up as they go along," Ms Haslam says.

"It's very frustrating for patients that are wanting to access it now."

Ms Haslam says Tuesday's changes are a significant milestone and eventually, Australia will have one of the world's best systems because it's been approved federally.

But until it's up and running, she's pushing for a national compassionate access scheme for patients who need medicinal cannabis right now.

Ms Haslam is calling for legislation to ensure patients needing to access the black market for now are protected, instead of relying on police discretion.

"At the moment people clearly don't have a choice, people are still effectively breaking the law, and that's a really big burden if you're very sick."

NSW already has a compassionate access system but it's deeply flawed because it's only available to adults and the terminally ill, Ms Haslam says.

Patients, researchers and entrepreneurs are set to meet in Sydney on Saturday to brainstorm ideas on how to overcome the hurdles patients are likely to face in accessing medicinal cannabis.

The organiser of the Seedlings event, entrepreneur Adam Miller who founded medicinal cannabis incubation program BuddingTech, says despite the many unknowns and barriers, there'll be plenty of opportunity.

The Australian medicinal cannabis market is set to be worth around $150 million with massive growth predicted.

"That's just based on a small number of patient groups - there are many other groups with supporting evidence that cannabis can help them too," Mr Miller told AAP.

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