The Queensland Government has recently announced a proposed Bill to legalise medicinal marijuana, which Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk says represents “the most progressive laws in the country”. The Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016 was made available to the public on the Queensland Health website on Monday 29 February, and is expected to be introduced to Parliament in April, allowing a one month consultation period.
Currently, possession or supply of cannabis, including for medical purposes, is prohibited under the Drugs Misuse Act 1986 (Qld), with maximum penalties reaching up to 15, 20 and 25 years depending on:
- Quantity for possession; and
- Various aggravating factors for supply dealing with the identity of the recipient (e.g. if that person is a minor).
Despite these high maximum penalties, the range of possible consequences is quite broad and can include suspended sentences and probation depending on what the sentencing judge sees as appropriate in each case.
The new Bill sets out a scheme under which medical practitioners may apply to the Queensland Government and Therapeutic Goods Administration for approval to prescribe medicinal marijuana for a patient, though in addition to the approval they must also have the consent of the patient (or a person authorised to make decisions on the patient’s behalf) and, if available, the written opinion of a specialist.
For doctors, this must be done for each patient, and the suitability of both the practitioner and the patient are to be assessed. Once approval is attained, authorisation to possess and deal with medicinal cannabis will also cover patients, carers and transporters. Pharmacists must also apply for approval to fulfil prescriptions generally.
Gaining approval will be crucial to avoid criminal charges, and Health Minister Cameron Dick has told listeners on Triple M Radio that, “this isn’t about decriminalising marijuana for general use and I don’t want to raise expectation”. But while cannabis will remain a prohibited ‘dangerous drug’ the new regime, if passed by Parliament, will give doctors and patients a lawful avenue to get long desired treatment outcomes.