The federal government in Australia is set to legalise growing medicinal cannabis that could help patients suffering from chronic pain, side effects of chemotherapy and some neurological diseases. The government is planning to create a licensing scheme within the Department of Health to ensure cultivation meets international obligations.

Currently, there are already systems in place to licence the manufacture and supply of medicinal cannabis-based products in Australia, however, there is no mechanism to allow the production of a safe, legal and sustainable local supply. "I have heard stories of patients who have resorted to illegal methods of obtaining cannabis and I have felt for them, because with a terminal condition, the most important thing is quality of life and relief of pain. Allowing this under strict controls will strike the right balance between patient access, community protection and our international obligations," said Sussan Ley Health Minister for the Australian government

Ley said the government is finalising draft amendments to the Narcotics Drugs Act 1967 to allow controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. Ley, however, made it clear that the move did not mean legal recreational use of the drug was any closer. She will meet with state and territory health ministers in November to discuss how the changes will work.

Once the road-map has been chalked out, the government headed by Malcolm Turnbull will then be seeking parliamentary support to amend the law. The Labour opposition in the Australian parliament has already indicated support for the move, provided the government ensures that cannabis will only be recommended to patients through a doctor's prescription or a medical trial.

If the Senate approves changes to the law, states and territories will then need to pass equivalent laws to ensure Australia complies with the international narcotics conventions. This means states will be at liberty to choose whether they want to legalise the cultivation of cannabis or not.

Australia has one of the highest cannabis prevalence rates in the world with a reported one-third of all Australians aged 22 or older having tried cannabis. According to estimates almost 300,000 Australians smoke it on a daily basis.