Australia's minister for health Greg Hunt opened 2018 with a bang last week, announcing the federal government would be allowing the export of medicinal cannabis products.
The declaration means big things for Australia's still-developing medicinal cannabis industry, however it attracted outrage from members of the Australian public who are trying (and failing) to access the medicine for themselves.
Hunt said the move would pave the way for Australia to potentially become the world's number one medicinal cannabis supplier, and said there would be "more than enough" product available for both Australian and international users.
"One of the conditions of any licence for export is that medicinal cannabis be made available to Australian patients first," he said. "Patients come first."
However, the health minister's claims of patient priority were rubbished by prominent medicinal cannabis campaigner Lucy Haslam, who told BuzzFeed News it was "despicable" that the profits of "cashed-up" cannabis companies were, in her view, being prioritised ahead of the needs of Australian patients.
"I am all for the industry being a successful one, that should enable prices to be kept at affordable levels (let's face it this is a plant that can be grown in any backyard!), but to announce this before Australian patients are able to easily access the imported products is just rubbing salt into the wounds of already suffering patients and that is despicable," Haslam wrote.
Hunt claims there are now "no real government barriers" facing Australians who wish to access medicinal cannabis, saying individual doctors would have the final say on who can gain access. However throughout 2017 BuzzFeed News spoke with several Australians who struggled to navigate through the multiple layers of bureaucracy required to gain access.
"The guidelines the government has produced will have the flow-on effect of turning half interested doctors into the government's scapegoat," Haslam said. "Maybe that is what was intended the whole time."
On social media, campaigners, patients and medical professionals bemoaned the export announcement.
The regulations that currently block the exportation of medicinal cannabis products from Australia will be changed when parliament resumes in February.
Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Brad Esposito at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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