Narcotic Drugs Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2021 Introduced to CTH Parliament

Friday 12 February 2021 @ 3.14 p.m. | Legal Research

The Narcotic Drugs Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2021 (Cth) (the “Bill”) was introduced to the Commonwealth Parliament’s House of Representatives on 3 February 2021 by Dan Tehan, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, on behalf of Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health and Aged Care. The Bill proposes extensive amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (Cth).

The McMillan Review

Minister Greg Hunt appointed Professor John McMillan AO to conduct “a Review and Report on the operation of the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (the Act) in accordance with section 26A of the Act”. 

Prof McMillan's Final Report (which was delivered on 10 July 2019) contains 26 recommendations to improve the regulatory framework for the cultivation, production and manufacture of medicinal cannabis in Australia. The recommendations aim to reduce the regulatory burden on industry, promote and allow greater flexibility in the administration of the legislation to support industry innovation and development.

Overview of the Bill

According to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum:

“the Bill makes a number of amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (the “ND Act”). These amendments are part of the second stage of the implementation of recommendations of the Final Report of the McMillan Review by Professor John McMillan AO into the regulation of medicinal cannabis …”

The Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (as amended by the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act 2016 (the “Amendment Act”)) establishes a licensing scheme for the cultivation and production of cannabis and cannabis resin for medicinal and scientific purposes. The ND Act also makes provisions for licensing the manufacture of other narcotic drugs.

The Amendment Act introduced a requirement for a review of the medicinal cannabis scheme to be undertaken.

The Proposed Amendments

According to the Explanatory Memorandum, amendments proposed by the Bill seek to:

  • streamline and consolidate the licensing structure in the Act into a single licence replacing the current three-licence structure, to reduce regulatory burden for industry participants undertaking activities across the spectrum of regulated activities - cultivation, production, manufacture and research;
  • create a perpetual licence and periodic permit structure for the majority of activities for which a medicinal cannabis licence is required, to support the long term nature of business investment decisions, whilst maintaining appropriate regulatory oversight; and
  • reaffirm the Australian Government’s commitment to patient availability of safe, legal and sustainable supply of cannabis derived medicines.

The Bill also makes minor amendments to the Act to “address issues identified through the administration of the scheme and the process of implementation of the recommendations of the McMillan Review. Other recommendations from the McMillan Review are also being implemented administratively and through business process reforms by the Department of Health”.

As noted in the Bill's Explanatory Memorandum:

“The amendments in the Bill contribute to ensuring that the regulatory framework strikes a balance between mitigating the risk to the Australian community of the diversion of cannabis and Australia’s obligations under international law, with the need to ensure that medicinal cannabis regulation in Australia facilitates ease of compliance for industry participants and does not impede growth and productivity”.

Minister’s Comment on the Bill

In his speech to Parliament, Minister Tehan said:

“ … the bill replaces the obligation for separate licences for any cultivation, production, manufacture and research activity with a single licence. Significantly, the majority of these single licences will be perpetual, thus reducing regulatory burden. For example, there will no longer be a need to go through a regular licence renewal application and assessment process for potentially multiple licences relevant to an entity's business operations.”

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