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26 Jul, 2015 08:49

Australia may legalize medical marijuana in August – report

Australia may legalize medical marijuana in August – report

A Senate committee representing all Australia’s major parties is preparing a Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill to legalize medical marijuana, despite warnings of regulatory complications with both Australian and international law, a report says.

The committee includes the Coalition (the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party, and Queensland Liberal branch the Liberal National Party), the Labor Party and crossbench senators. They will “strongly recommend” parliament pass a cross-party bill setting up a medical marijuana regulator, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, citing Fairfax Media sources close to the legislation debate.

Today, over two-thirds of Australians support the idea of medical marijuana use and only 9 percent oppose it, a recent survey by Palliative Care Australia has found.

The leader of Australia Greens, Richard Di Natale, initiated the bill in November last year. The committee received the bill in February and after conducting public hearings and attracting nearly 200 public submissions, it is set to present its report on August 10.

READ MORE: People pot power: Aussie state gives go-ahead to medicinal cannabis trial

The federal regulator will have the authority to oversee all matters of cannabis use, specifically production, distribution and medical use nationwide.

The Health Department strongly opposes the bill, saying it would imply setting up a new regulatory system that would create "complexity and uncertainty" and conflict with the existing Therapeutic Goods Act. It may also conflict with international obligations Australia has under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

The Health Department’s secretary, Martin Bowles, warned the bill might leave some legal and practical issues unresolved, “leading to the risk of regulatory gap, overlapping laws and a lack of clarity about the exercise of jurisdiction by agencies and possible inconsistency with other existing laws.”

"I can understand why someone like Medicines Australia might be opposed," senator Di Natale said last month. "It doesn't conform to the model of a traditional pharmaceutical and some people would argue it is a competitor.”

Establishing a federal regulator is needed to overcome limitations of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which markets pharmaceutical products and doesn’t issue approval for herbal medicines, Di Natale said.

The leader of the Greens recognized in June that there are certain problems with the bill, which are nevertheless not insurmountable. Senator Di Natale said countries that have legalized medical marijuana serve as a good example that it’s possible without violating conventions, so Australia could follow suit.

The medical marijuana growing industry could become a major driver of economic growth for Australia one day, as is already happening in the US. In America the industry is estimated to top $14 billion by 2020, while the global marijuana market is expected to reach $100 billion once fully mature.

Today, Australian federal legislation criminalizes cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes, with the exception of limited growth and possession of pot as medicine in some individual states.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott expressed support for the bill last year, saying, “I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates.”