Dr. WALDRUFF – Minister, in last November’s estimates, I believe Mr Webster told me that out of 39 applications made the previous year, only 17 were approved for medical cannabis. Tasmania’s Controlled Access Scheme has been widely recognized as being too restrictive and ideologically dominated. Even the Federal Minister of Health, Mr Hunt, has publicly criticized Tasmania’s slow progress in this area.
Can you please tell me how many medical cannabis applications were made and how many were approved from November 2020 to July 1, 2021 since the introduction of the special access system started on July 1?
Mr. ROCKLIFF – Starting in 2021, 22 we have pledged $ 2 million over a four-year period to change the Tasmanian Controlled Access Scheme, which allows primary care physicians to prescribe medical cannabis according to the procedure in other states and territories, and the Therapeutic Goods portal Administration (TGA) to use. resulting in improved access for Tasmanians.
We are committed to improving access to medical cannabis. This includes approving Tasmanian family doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis products and more public pharmacies across the state to dispense these products. As of July 1st of this year, Tasmania has introduced the national, optimized online application path and the 48-hour authorization time frame. As in all other jurisdictions, Tasmanian general practitioners must obtain approval from the TGA to prescribe medicinal cannabis products through this national route.
As a government, we are committed to improving access to medical cannabis in a responsible and evidence-based manner. However, cannabis will continue to be an illegal plant in Tasmania if grown without a license or if a person has it without a doctor’s prescription. As of July 1, 2021, I mentioned that we had joined the participation of all other Australian jurisdictions on the TGA portal. Between July 1 and August 2, 2021, the TGA approved four requests from Tasmanian doctors to prescribe a Schedule 4 cannabis product to a specific patient. Between July 1 and August 2, 2021, the TGA and a delegate from the Ministry of Health approved two requests from Tasmanian doctors to prescribe cannabis products to a specific patient on a schedule of 8. The ability to prescribe unproven cannabis products in Tasmania does not mean that those products are safe for effective medication.
Dr. WALDRUFF – That was not the time period I asked for. I asked from November 2020 to July 1, 2021.
Mr. ROCKLIFF – I looked after you from July 1st to August 2nd.
Mr. WEBSTER – To correct this, 17 applications were approved between July 2017 and November 2020. Until then, and with the system change on July 1, there were two further applications. There are 19 in total according to the old scheme. In calling it the old system, following the Minister’s reply, we have of course continued the controlled access system as it is the only Australian subsidized system. Public health patients who cannot afford to pay for the prescriptions can still apply what I call the old scheme and go through the professional review process, or they can use the TGA scheme run by general practitioners.
Dr. WALDRUFF – Minister, as you say, on July 1st, Tasmanians will have access to this special TGA access system that allows GPs to prescribe registered and unregistered medical cannabis products. Can you please tell me how many applications have been made by prescribers since July 1st and how many have been approved? Is that four done and two approved, as Mr. Webster talked about earlier?
Mr. ROCKLIFF – I have two requests from Tasmanian doctors to prescribe 8 cannabis products to a specific patient on a schedule.
Mr. WEBSTER – The approval for Schedule 8, which we are running in Tasmania, is in fact the case in most states and territories. For timetable 8 there is a local – if you wish – a state and territorial permit and a TGA permit. For schedule 4 it is a TGA permit.
Dr. WALDRUFF – Minister, with regard to medical cannabis, the cost of medical cannabis products remains a major issue for many Tasmanians who need them. As far as I know, Tasmania continues to offer subsidized access and, in fact, we are the only jurisdiction in Australia that does. Could you please explain who is eligible for subsidized access and how many patients are currently receiving these subsidies?
Mr. WEBSTER – Eligible patients are typically those with public health entitlement who come through public hospitals. It can be any group of people. It’s actually a clinical recommendation. You go through a process when your GP recommends it to a specialist, the specialist then recommends the prescription to a panel and the panel considers it part of that. These are the core criteria. Anyone can apply for it, but the main problem with subsidies is that it has to be an affordable system, so usually those who receive the health card have priority in this process. Anyone Can Apply: Nineteen medical cannabis applications were approved under this program because, if you will, is the old program I was referring to. It’s still open. It is the 19 who have applied since 2017 who have received this grant. Those who have submitted an application under the new system, the TGA system, have to pay for it themselves.
Dr. WALDRUFF – Minister, medical cannabis is a proven, effective and safe treatment for some health conditions. It gives people life saving pain relief and treats some other conditions. Cannabis is detectable in your system in very small amounts by roadside drug detection, even many days after consumption. Currently, the DHHS website advises that people do not drive while being treated with medical cannabis. For many people with long-term illnesses, this is not a sustainable situation. As a minister, are you working on a solution for people who have lost access to transport for fear of a crime?
Mr. ROCKLIFF – We must follow the medical advice of the time on these matters, and of course safety would come first. I have not yet worked on a solution to this question. You just presented it to me now. I’m not sure if it even presented itself to the health department. As I said, I will have to be guided by clinical and medical advice. It’s also a matter for the police, as you appreciate.
Dr. WALDRUFF – There are low scores that do not affect a person’s ability to drive a car, and here we come to this difficult situation. I ask you, on behalf of the people who access and use medical cannabis, to re-examine the scientific evidence at these lower levels and whether there are opportunities from other jurisdictions to find an appropriate, fair and safe solution.
Mr. ROCKLIFF – We can look at this information and see what is possible. Do you have any further advice, Mr. Webster
Mr. WEBSTER – The Royal Australian College of General Practice has guidelines on this. THC as a product in cannabis has been shown to interfere with driving. Cannabidiols do not. There is a difference between medical cannabis and taking THC or cannabis for medical reasons.
Dr. WALDRUFF – Tas Botanics operates a world-class medicinal cannabis facility in Tasmania. I understand it does not currently ship domestically. Do you work with Tas Botanics and other companies, especially Tas Botanics, to make quality medical cannabis products locally available and affordable?
Mr. ROCKLIFF – That is a question from the Minister for State Growth in relation to the growth of an industry.
Dr. WALDRUFF – The product goes overseas and to the rest of Australia. Can we get it here in Tasmania?
Mr. WEBSTER – The Tas Botanic plant in Pontville is a high THC product that is not used for medicinal cannabis in Australia. The cannabidiol product or the low-THC product is grown by Tas Alkaloids in the north of the state.
Dr. WALDRUFF – They now produce both, Tas Botanic. It’s changed, it’s very high quality.