According to government data, Australia medicinal cannabis business is expected to overtake Canada’s medical market this year due to the country’s continued rapid increase in patients and sales.
Australia’s medical cannabis business is expected to overtake Canada’s medicinal market this year, according to experts, as it continues to see rapid growth in both patients and revenues. Australian patients often obtain Australia medicinal cannabis through one of two legally sanctioned programs: the Special Access Scheme Category B (SAS-B) system, or from an authorized prescriber, usually a doctor. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) records show that between January 2018 and January 2022, there was a substantial increase in the number of SAS-B patient approvals for medical cannabis.
From 25,160 in 2019 to 57,710 in 2020 and over 122,000 in 2021, there was an increase in patient approvals. However, in 2022, that figure fell to 117,000.
According to insiders in the industry, the fall in SAS-B approvals last year was caused, in part, by changes made in late 2021. These changes essentially forced some patients to choose an other route to obtain Australia medicinal cannabis: through an Authorized Prescriber (AP).
According to TGA data, the number of medicinal cannabis AP approvals has significantly increased since late 2019, when only 322 approvals were reported. In the second half of 2022, that number rose to 172,185 approvals through the AP program.
Australian medical cannabis patients who have received authorized prescriber approvals
According to Rhys Cohen, global partnerships and engagement consultant at the drug policy organization Penington Institute in Victoria, Australia, the surge was “…probably caused by a combination of the November 2021 reforms, which made it easier to become an AP, and on top of that, on top of that, on top of that, on top of that, on top of that.”
SAS-B versus AP
A freedom of information request made by Cohen claims that between January and June of 2022, almost equal amounts of medical cannabis units were sold under the AP and SAS-B programs. It is also challenging to compare the data for the two streams. The data may overlap in some areas.
Patients have occasionally been able to obtain cannabis prescriptions through the SAS-B pathway and some through AP, sometimes even with the help of the same physician. In other cases, a patient might have SAS-B permission, which is typically good for 24 months, but they could switch to seeing an AP in the interim.
In that situation, the same patient would be accounted for simultaneously in the SAS-B and AP data. Nevertheless, according to industry experts, the data shows that the industry is expanding quickly. Since the market’s creation, it has grown by at least doubling each year, according to Cohen, and this trend is expected to continue.
Cohen predicts that in 2022, patients would have spent about 167 million Australian dollars ($250 million) on items containing cannabis on a prescription. He stated that “any forecasts should be treated with caution” and added that “that could very well double in 2023.”
This would put Australian expenditure ahead of the declining medical cannabis market in Canada, which had a 2022 market value of 407 million Canadian dollars ($302 million), or around AU$449.4 million.
According to Tommy Huppert, CEO of Melbourne-based cannabis producer Cannatrek, Australia’s cannabis market is continuing to develop as more doctors are writing prescriptions for the drug.
“Actual patient approvals have continued to grow well due to more and more Approved Prescribers becoming active, who do not need to apply via the SAS-B application,” the man stated.
Reforms of November 2021
In November 2021, Australia updated the regulations controlling the Authorized Prescriber and SAS-B systems. In order to become an Authorized Prescriber or to use the SAS-B pathway to prescribe a specific Australia medicinal cannabis product, medical professionals required government clearance prior to the revisions. Government approval was also necessary for each cannabis product provided by authorized prescribers.
However, according to a story by Cohen in the Australian magazine Cannabiz, the SAS-B pathway was necessary if a specific cannabis product that a doctor had been given permission to prescribe was out of stock or the doctor wanted to prescribe a different cannabis product.