There will be a slightly controversial topic on the discussion at the 2021 Country Women’s Association State Conference: medical cannabis, its astronomical cost, and the PBS.
Australia’s Country Women’s Association is one of the largest advocacy bodies in the country, with over 17,000 active members. Every year, CWA members nationwide travel to their state conference, where they discuss issues facing Australia. This year, the cost of medical cannabis will be a key debate topic.
While medical cannabis products are legally available to anyone on the Special Access Scheme (SAS), they are not subsidized on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) – unlike other prescriptions. According to a report from 2020, this leaves the average medical cannabis patients paying $384 monthly for their medication. Unfortunately, this cost is so high that many patients are forced to switch to black-market cannabis.
Many medical cannabis companies have attempted to drop the cost of their products, though this is difficult when the cost of licensing, growing and producing cannabis medicines is so high. Although proposed changes to the Narcotic Drugs Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill could one day reduce licensing costs, there is really only one solution that can cut the cost of medical cannabis for patients now: adding medical cannabis products to PBS.
If the CWA were to campaign for PBS reform it would be a huge win for medical cannabis reform. The CWA is currently Australia’s largest women’s NGO, as well as one of Australia’s most powerful advocacy groups. The organisation has formally fought for medical cannabis since 2006 and helped legalise it in 2016.
The motion for the CWA to fight for reform will be raised by the Conbargo branch at the state conference in Bega. According to Conbargo branch secretary Lynn Lawson, PBS reform is essential to make medical cannabis accessible to people who need it.
The problem is that although cannabis can be obtained by prescription, it’s not available under the PBS and it’s exorbitantly expensive.
If the motion passes, CWA will begin formally campaigning for PBS reform alongside their other causes. The debate will not be open to the public and will be conducted from May 3rd to 5th.