Medicinal cannabis: Government accused of defying will of Senate over importation

An attempt to open up access to imported medicinal cannabis for dying patients has failed, prompting accusations the executive arm of the Government is defying the will of the Parliament.

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ABC.AU David Lipson 8\24\17

In June a rainbow coalition of senators came together to defeat the Government and overturn restrictions on the importation of cannabis-based medicines for terminally ill patients.

But in an email obtained by Lateline, the Government subsequently warned importers they would be in breach of their permit and licence conditions if they followed the will of the Senate.

The email, sent by the Office of Drug Control in the Department of Health, notes the Senate vote “allows access to medicinal cannabis products under the Special Access Scheme Category A”.

But the email goes on to warn importers “it is a breach of your permit and licence conditions if you supply any imported medicinal cannabis product to a patient under SAS-A”.

Special Access Scheme for Category A enables medicines that are not on the register to be supplied to patients who are seriously ill and likely to die within months.

Leyonhjelm labels Government ‘cruel’

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said it was reprehensive behaviour by the Government.

“They’ve threatened importers that they will have their licence removed if they follow the law and make this drug available to people with a terminal illness,” he told Lateline.

Senator David Leyonhjelm said the Government was being “cruel”.

“Effectively, what that letter is saying is ‘We don’t care what the Senate decided. We’re telling you, you will not sell your cannabis products to Category A patients or make those products available to them’.”

Government says Greens, Labor misled patients

The Greens disallowance motion passed the Senate 40-30 on June 13 with the support of Labor, One Nation and Senators Leyonhjelm, Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch and Lucy Gichuhi.

The Government imposed the original restrictions in October last year with the support of the Greens and Labor, fearing untested and unregulated medicines would put Australian patients at risk.

Its cautious approach to importation has also been backed by the Australian Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs.

A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said the email was not in defiance of the Senate, claiming the Greens and Labor were warned their motion would fail but they chose to mislead patients.

Labor’s health spokeswoman Catherine King told Lateline: “The Government should be doing everything it can to expand patient access to medicinal cannabis, not hiding behind technicalities.”

Senator Di Natale said the Greens would try again when Parliament returned.

“I’ll be introducing legislation to the Parliament to ensure that anybody who needs access to medicinal cannabis who has a terminal illness can get it either through somebody importing it into Australia or indeed through a registered grower here in Australia.”

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