Medicinal Cannabis - Information for Patients and Carers in Tasmania

NOTE: This information is effective from 1 July 2021

What is medicinal cannabis?

Most medicines prescribed in Australia have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to be included on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).  Medicines are only listed on the ARTG when the TGA is satisfied with the medicine’s evidence of quality, safety and efficacy.   Medicines that the TGA has either not assessed, or that have insufficient evidence of quality, safety and efficacy are known as ‘unregistered’ medicines.

Unregistered medicinal cannabis medicines are products lawfully manufactured and prescribed for a therapeutic purpose which are either derived from legally cultivated cannabis plants or synthetically made cannabinoid substances There are many naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Each Australian State and Territory has their own poisons legislation which outline certain controls for supply of certain classes of medicines including ‘prescription only’ medicines. In Tasmania this is the Poisons Act 1971 and Poisons Regulations 2018.

Scientific literature supporting the use of medicinal cannabis to treat a range of conditions is limited. The role of medicinal cannabis will become clearer as additional research is published and the evidence base expands. The TGA have published information for patients on the evidence for use of medicinal cannabis.

Access to medicinal cannabis products

In Tasmania, a registered medical practitioner can prescribe unregistered medicinal cannabis to a patient if they believe it is clinically appropriate and have obtained the required Commonwealth approval, and State authorisation (for Schedule 8 products).

Treating medical practitioners are well placed to discuss with patients or carers the risks and benefits of unregistered medicinal cannabis for specific patients and explain the available evidence for use.

If a medical practitioner believes medicinal cannabis is clinically appropriate for their patient the medical practitioner will need to obtain the required Commonwealth approval, and State authorisation (for some THC containing medical cannabis products). Once the required approval, and where applicable authorisation, are obtained the medical practitioner can issue a prescription for a medicinal cannabis product.

A valid prescription for medicinal cannabis may be legally dispensed at any pharmacy in Tasmania.

For some medicinal cannabis medicines containing THC to be legally dispensed by a pharmacist in Tasmania, the medical practitioner must be present and practicing in Tasmania when issuing the prescription.

Cost

Unregistered medicinal cannabis products are not listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) so patients need to pay the cost of purchasing the product.

The Tasmanian Government does not regulate prices for unregistered medicinal cannabis products supplied in the community setting. The cost of these products will depend on the product, supplier, shipping expenses, customs fees and pharmacy dispensing fees.

Individual suppliers may be able to provide an indication of cost.

There will continue to be subsidised access to these products for Tasmanians with a serious illness that has not responded to conventional therapies, when prescribed through the Tasmanian Health Service (THS) relevant medical specialist pathway. Tasmania remains the only jurisdiction in Australia to subsidise access to unregistered medicinal cannabis products in these cases.  The subsidy through the THS is available where all reasonable evidence-based therapeutic options have been trialled and shown to be ineffective or inappropriate for the patient prior to approving the prescription of these products.

Medicinal cannabis and driving

Medicinal cannabis can cause impairment and affect fitness to drive, and a person who drives a vehicle while under the influence of a drug to the extent that the person is incapable of having proper control of the vehicle is guilty of an offence (even if the drug is prescribed). It is recommended that patients do not drive whilst being treated with medicinal cannabis.

THC is the main psychoactive substance in cannabis and is present in some medicinal cannabis products. Driving with any detectable amount of THC in your system is an offence in Tasmania, unless the product was obtained and administered in accordance with the Poisons Act 1971.

Illegal possession and use of cannabis

Medicinal cannabis possession is lawful when the cultivation, manufacture, prescribing, supply and use complies with all applicable Commonwealth and State laws.

A person in Tasmania cannot legally produce their own cannabis for medicinal or recreational use.

Personal import of medicinal cannabis products is not permitted other than through the traveller’s exemption process. Please refer to the TGA for information.

Travelling to Tasmania with medicinal cannabis

Each Australian state or territory have their own requirements under their poisons legislation.

Interstate visitors who have been lawfully prescribed and dispensed a medicinal cannabis product in another State / Territory can travel with that product in Tasmania.

Travellers entering Australia should refer to the TGA website for advice on the legal requirements for medicinal cannabis importation and the travellers exemption.

Further information

Further information for patients and carers is available from a variety of sources including: