The primary pieces of regulation that govern Australia’s medical cannabis market are The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill (February 2016) and the Narcotic Drugs Regulation (October 2016). At a high level, these two laws detail the structure of the domestic cannabis market, patient access, licensing procedures, licensed business’ obligations, and criminal penalties. The country considers hemp products for human consumption – all parts of the plant other than hemp seeds – to be a drug. This means that if a consumer wants CBD oil they must obtain a prescription, see a certified doctor, and/or obtain an import license – the same requirements for obtaining THC products.
Australia’s cannabis market includes the entire supply chain – from cultivation to distribution – though pharmacies replace the role of dispensaries. Patients are not required to obtain a permit to consume medical cannabis, only a doctor’s prescription. The law broadly defines the types of medical conditions that qualify for medical cannabis usage, though patients must have exhausted other medications prior to requesting access to cannabis.
An important caveat in Australia’s system is the states’ secondary role in cannabis licensing and regulation. Although licensing does take place at the Federal level, many states have adopted additional licensing schemes of their own. Furthermore, states differ in many important ways when it comes to which patients qualify for cannabis, how cannabis products are classified, and how licensed businesses in the state end up operating. As such, the rules and regulations concerning cannabis differ meaningfully depending on the state in question.
In addition to the government, two other bodies are directly involved in cannabis oversight: the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the Federal Office of Drug Control (ODC). The former is akin to the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, and the latter is the body largely responsible for implementing and overseeing cannabis regulations, licensing, permitting, etc.
Finally, while exports of cannabis are not currently allowed, both Parliament and the Office of Drug Control have been transparent about eventually allowing exports in the “second stage” of its cannabis scheme. The ultimate decision to move forward or not with exports will be made after the government has determined that the domestic supply of cannabis is adequate to satisfy domestic demand.
Regulations in Australia are strict – hemp seed oil products must contain less than 0.0075% CBD content and The Single Convention and Australian law are agnostic on the 'acceptable' levels of THC in cannabis extracts; today, all extracts of cannabis are drugs, regardless of specific cannabinoid levels.
However, Australian health agencies are currently reviewing low-dose CBD products to consider removing them from the prescription medicines category and allowing for regulated over-the-counter access. Following the Australian Senate's recommendation that the "Therapeutic Goods Administration, as a matter of priority, conduct broad public consultation on the future scheduling of cannabidiol and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids", the Department of Health has proposed a new framework for CBD, which is open for public comment. The proposal will be discussed at the Joint Advisory Committee on Medicines and Chemicals Scheduling meeting in June 2020, and an interim decision is expected by September.
As written, the proposal would permit pharmacists to sell CBD products to adults age 18+ after counseling them on safe use and any potential drug interactions, with the aim of providing appropriate health professional advice prior to use by the public. The full framework proposal, seen here, also places restrictions on dosage and cannabinoid content.
Though these discussions look promising, until CBD is considered separately from cannabis, Australia's market will remain limited to medical patients.