Even Australia’s Medical Marijuana Poster Boy Can’t Get the Drug

Legalization of medical cannabis in Australia was done in 2016. The Minister of Health also made the goals of the government known, concerning the use of marijuana for medical purposes in the country. In January 2018, he asserted that Australia will become the biggest supplier of the drug. That, however, seems to be an irony as a 19-year old boy diagnosed with brain tumor and epilepsy is currently finding it hard to get the drug in Australia. Strict regulation, uninformed medical practitioners, limited supply, and scarcity of product are among the factors that could mitigate the chances of a patient getting the drug when it is needed.

Some medical practitioners in Australia have stepped forward to criticize the distribution and retail system of the medical marijuana industry in Australia. President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr. Bastian Siedel referred to the system as “fragmented…and…not transparent.”

“We don’t have a consistent, regulatory framework that is either efficient or timely…and this is what makes it so frustrating for medical practitioners and for patients who are clearly in need of medical treatment,” said Dr. Siedel.

The 19-year old Australian boy, Lindsay Carter lives with his parents in Loganholme, a town 18 miles from Brisbane. The only treatment methods that have worked in suppressing his seizures are marijuana-based oil capsules and a marijuana vapor inhaler. Most of his supply comes from donations. His supply of legal medical marijuana is about to run out and it will take several months for him to get new supplies.

Mr. Carter, however, is a very popular figure in the circle of medical cannabis practitioners and activists. To keep up with his treatment, he travels out of the country with his mom to get marijuana. If he does this time, it would be the 5th time in the last 4 years. The long expensive overseas trips he made through his teenage years, and his mother’s activism about how the availability of marijuana in Australia can help her son keeps putting him more in the limelight. Mr. Carter has been featured in reports by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and has appeared twice on the Australian version of 60 minutes.

Unlike Carter, many Australians who need marijuana for medical reasons source it illegally. To them, the risk of criminality is preferable to the struggle with bureaucracy. To get a prescription for legal cannabis, Carter’s mother and doctor had to fill out multiple applications, provide a 196-page supporting evidence, and obtain written approval from 6 doctors and specialists—a process that took 1½ years.

Mr. Carter’s seizures had made him take anti-seizure medications that caused serious debilitating effects, and the only treatment option he had was marijuana. This made him and his mother travel out of the country frequently to get the drug. They go to the United States to meet with specialists in states including California, Washington, Texas, and British Columbia.

With the last treatment Mr. Carter received in North America, he claimed that his condition greatly improved. He felt more energetic and he had fewer seizures over the course of that year. The tumor in his brain also shrank 7 millimeters in 7 weeks. His condition, however, started to deteriorate when he returned to Australia.

Ms. Carter protests the process by which legal medical marijuana is obtained, saying, the “stress that this system creates for families and for sick patients is actually inhumane…what patient should have to go through that?”

Patients who seek prescription for medical cannabis must obtain the endorsement of both federal and state health officials. Dr. Siedel revealed, saying that they do not have “a consistent, regulatory framework that is either efficient or timely…and this is what makes it so frustrating for medical practitioners and for patients who are clearly in need of medical treatment.”

The biggest challenge facing Australia’s legal marijuana industry is the country’s bureaucracy. Medical marijuana patients who need this drug are the ones most adversely affected. The process is ridiculously unhurried, complex, and quite expensive. If carter’s major source of supply was not charity, his family would have to pay 16,000 Australian dollars ($12,500) a month to get his complete doses. It is unfortunate that even as Mr. Carter is well-known, he could not always get his prescriptions regularly without leaving his country.