Australia’s Parliament passed a measure Wednesday legalizing medical marijuana, CNN reported. Amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act will now allow cannabis to be grown legally for medical and scientific purposes.
"This is an historic day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products so genuine patients are no longer treated as criminals. … this is the missing piece in a patient's treatment journey, and [we] will now see seamless access to locally produced medicinal cannabis products from farm to pharmacy," Minister for Health Sussan Ley said in a statement.
Although cannabis plants can now be grown legally in Australia, it is unclear whether patients with a prescription will be able to actually get the cannabis, as regulations still need to be put in place and production licenses need to be applied before production can officially begin, according to United in Compassion, a medical cannabis advocacy group that petitioned for the government to make marijuana legal, CNN reported.
Since it was previously illegal to grow and import most medicinal cannabis products, some patients bought those products on the black market and ran the risk of being prosecuted for drug use and possession, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The health minister reminded Australians that the changes would not affect recreational marijuana, which is still illegal.
California was the first state in the U.S. to allow the medical use of marijuana in 1996, and now a total of 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs. Studies have found that marijuana is effective in relieving some of the symptoms associated with HIV and AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.