States blocking up to 20% of Federally-approved medicinal cannabis patients

Patient access in Australia is crawling along at a snails pace. But recent data suggests the States/Territories are putting additional handbrakes on an already cumbersome Federal framework.

To get access to a Schedule 8 (THC) cannabis medicine in NSW, a successful application must be made to both the Federal and State Health Departments along with a ton of documentation and medical research justifying the request.

Thanks to some recent efforts to expand transparency, the NSW Government has started releasing month-by-month data on S8 Category B requests. These only capture S8 (THC) requests, as S4 (CBD) requests don’t need an extra State-level permission. And they don’t include data from Authorised Prescribers or clinical trials.

None of the other States/Territories have chosen to release their statistics.

The ‘grand total’ of 64 requests in the last 16 months is a serious indication of how reluctant doctors are to pursue medicinal cannabis as a treatment option for their patients. And more work needs to be done in this area. But at first glance, the upward trend appears encouraging.

NSW is also releasing data on how many applications they approve and reject:

Leaving aside those pending and withdrawn, NSW is approving just over 80% of all S8 CatB requests. Pretty good, right?

Well, not really. Since January 2016, the TGA has not rejected a single S8 CatB request.

Not. A. Single. One.

This is the Federal body responsible for regulating all pharmaceuticals in the country. It advises the Federal Parliament, administers the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and is responsible for certifying and overseeing medicinal cannabis quality standards.

Federation can be a pain, and yes, the States/Territories have control over health as a policy area, but it begs the question: why does NSW Health think the TGA is approving unsafe or inappropriate access to medicinal cannabis nearly 20% of the time?

[edit 21/11/17]

It is also possible that some doctors have applied to NSW Health before applying to the TGA, been rejected by NSW, and not bothered to pursue a Federal application. But we can’t confirm that as the TGA chooses to withhold data on where their CatB applications come from.