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How to get a medical marijuana card in Australia

How to get a medical marijuana card in Australia

A woman rolls a joint with cannabis flower

Medical cannabis has been legal for patients in all of Australia since 2016, although recreational use has been decriminalized in several states and even legalized in the capital territory. This article gives step-by-step instructions for how to get a medical cannabis prescription in Australia.

The country’s medical marijuana approval process is considered strict and more restrictive than many other programs around the world

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulates the approval of medical cannabis prescriptions in the country. Approval is granted by way of two routes: the Authorized Prescriber Scheme (APS), and the Special Access Scheme (SAS). 

Steps to take to get medical cannabis in Australia

Any doctor can prescribe medical cannabis in Australia, and prospective patients do not have to go to a specialist. Medical cannabis is not covered under the country’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme so patients must pay the full cost of the products purchased. 

1. Meet with your doctor about your condition

Unlike in many other countries, in Australia the patient does not submit an application, rather, their doctor submits one to the TGA on their behalf. A patient must first schedule an appointment with their doctor and describe why they believe that medical marijuana could help their health condition. 

2. Have your physician submit a request 

If the presiding doctor determines that medical marijuana could help their patient, they can then submit an application to the TGA which certifies that the patient has a health condition that could be appropriate for the use of medical cannabis. The doctor will most likely have to attach some form of clinical justification as part of the application.

In some Australian states the approval process can be somewhat more restrictive. For instance in Tasmania, if a patient’s general practitioner believes that conventional treatment has failed and a cannabis product could help, they must then refer the patient to a relevant medical specialist who will determine whether or not to apply to the TGA on the patient’s behalf. 

3. Go to a licensed pharmacy

In addition to submitting the application, in Australia the physician must also arrange for a pharmacy to dispense the medication to the patient in question. 

Who can get a medical card in Australia?

The justification provided by the physician must detail “the seriousness of the patient’s condition, consideration for the use of medicines that are included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) and the potential risks and benefits of using the proposed unapproved medicine.”

The application submitted by the doctor must also detail the patients’ symptom or diagnosis and “details of relevant past treatment and procedures trialled or considered, including reasons why therapeutic goods currently included in the ARTG may not be the most appropriate treatment for the individual patient in the particular circumstance.”

Qualifying health conditions for medical marijuana in Australia

Unlike in many other jurisdictions, there is no set list of medical conditions which can qualify a patient for medical marijuana. As of today medical cannabis has been approved for dozens of conditions in Australia included but not limited to:

Can you grow your own cannabis in Australia for medicinal purposes? 

According to the Office of Drug Control, under the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, “cultivation for medicinal purposes can only occur under license issued by the Australian Government. Permits allow the Government to restrict how much is cultivated (and manufactured), thus meeting a key obligation of preventing accumulation of narcotic material.”

A medical cannabis or cannabis research license is required in order to lawfully cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes. The amounts and types of cannabis that can be cultivated or produced are outlined in the permit. 

In order to receive a license, the grower must be able to show that the cultivation and production of the cannabis is either to supply the holder of a medicinal cannabis manufacturer license, or is for research relating to medicinal cannabis. 

But what about someone who wants to cultivate cannabis for their own personal use or to treat a medical condition? 

In 2019, the Australian Capital Territory legalized the possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis and cultivation of up to two plants. Across the country though, cultivation of cannabis is illegal if done without a federal license, and those who are caught can face severe penalties. 

Who can sell medical marijuana in Australia?

Since the legalization of medical cannabis in Australia in 2016, the program is run by the country’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Patients who want to receive medical marijuana must get approval from the TGA, by way of an application from a registered healthcare provider. 

Once the permit is approved, the patient can receive their prescription at a pharmacy, though there are currently no medical cannabis products that are subsidized through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and the cost is solely borne by the patient. Australian Access Clinics states that medical cannabis products typically cost around $4-8 per day, depending on the product and the dosage. 

Patients may also have trouble accessing the medicines they want, and may need to import cannabis products from North America or Europe. 
As of early 2021, people can purchase CBD oil over the counter in Australia.

Do you have a medical marijuana prescription in Australia? Let us know in the comments below how the process went for you.

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