The Federal Government has given the green light for approved companies to legally import, store and sell the drug until domestic production meets local needs.
The move will make it easier for patients who now must go through a lengthy process to get cannabis from overseas once prescribed by an authorised doctor.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says those with profound conditions or palliative care needs will instead be able to access safe, high-quality and appropriately-obtained medication within days.
“It is time that they have the care that they need, the drugs that are prescribed by medical professionals, and that they are actually available,” he told reporters in Sydney today.
Once approved, commercial importers will be allowed to source medicinal cannabis products from a reputable international supplier and store it in a secure warehouse.
It’s expected Australia will have a continuous supply of medicinal cannabis within eight weeks.
That will help fill the gap until local production – which was legalised late last year – ramps up.
The first licence for private cultivation was only issued last week.
Victoria expects locally-sourced medicinal cannabis to be available by the middle of the year or a little bit later.
“We want to make supply available but it has to be legal,” Hunt said.
“It has to be safe and we want to make sure this medicinal cannabis is available but on the same basis as any of the serious drugs and medicines that can only be dealt with through prescription and through a very rigorous medical process.”
Labor welcomed the move, after Bill Shorten last week wrote to the prime minister calling for the government to regulate overseas supply.
Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said she hoped the fast-tracked importation will immediately improve access to medicinal cannabis.
“However it should be noted there are still unanswered questions around the other barriers to access, such as patients’ access to doctors who can prescribe medicinal cannabis,” she said in a statement.