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Why Australia Needs Homegrow Amnesty for Medical Cannabis Patients

by Marijuana Staff

When Australia legalised medical cannabis in 2016, it was a breakthrough for patients suffering from terminal or chronic conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS, MS and severe epilepsy.

However, the reality has been that accessing legal medical cannabis remains extremely costly and difficult for many genuine patients across the country.

With no legal recreational framework, those treating their conditions with cannabis have faced an impossible choice: pay exorbitant costs through the highly regulated medical scheme or turn to illegal homegrowing as their only affordable option. For these individuals using cannabis out of medical necessity, amnesty provisions allowing small-scale personal cultivation can provide a sensible solution.

The medical cannabis landscape in Australia creates significant financial hurdles. Doctor appointments, authorised prescriber schemes, limited pharmacy supplies, combined with a raft of new federal medicinal cannabis fees and charges result in costs of over $300 per month even with a healthcare card. For low-income patients or those without good health coverage, these costs are simply untenable.

As a result, many have resorted to growing a few plants themselves to create an affordable personal supply. While not ideal from a regulatory standpoint, criminalising these homegrowers who have no other reasonable way to access their medication is an unjust punishment. Most are severely ill Aussies using cannabis to treat the harsh effects of cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS wasting, chronic pain, intractable epilepsy and other debilitating conditions.

A limited amnesty window allowing existing unlicensed patient homegrowers to register, get their plants counted and tracked, and continue a small cultivation while the medical scheme remains cost-prohibitive could prevent unnecessary criminalisation. Strict qualifying conditions, plant caps, security rules and mandatory future integration into the legal system once more affordable could all be built into the amnesty framework.

For Australian jurisdictions struggling with extremely limited and costly legal medical cannabis supplies, amnesty is also a stop-gap that can increase overall patient access in the short term as the programs improve. It prevents driving more people to unregulated markets out of desperation.

Of course, amnesty is a temporary solution, not an open-ended free-for-all. But it recognises that for many legitimate patients, they've had no affordable legal alternative until now. As the medical system potentially becomes more accessible through expanded domestic production and lower costs, amnesty allows longtime unlicensed growers a sensible path to enter the regulated framework over time.

Cannabis policy must prioritise legitimate patient needs first and foremost. Until costs and supply in Australia's tightly controlled medical scheme improve, amnesty is a compassionate way to avoid treating severely ill people as criminals simply for pursuing affordable healthcare.  Amnesty provides them a chance to come into the light without fear while the system develops.

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