The Turnbull government has announced the creation of a nationally consistent licencing scheme to regulate the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes.

By removing the need for states and territories to implement individual cultivation schemes, legislation will be consistent across the country for growers, according to Minister for Health Sussan Ley. The Commonwealth would now oversee all regulatory aspects of the cultivation of medical cannabis through one national scheme.

The decision follows consultation with state and territory governments and law enforcement agencies over the past month. Legislation will be introduced in the first sitting period of 2016 to allow comments on the exposure draft to be considered in full over the next couple of months.

“Allowing controlled cultivation locally will provide the critical ‘missing piece’ for a sustainable legal supply of safe medicinal cannabis products for Australian patients in the future,” Ley said.

She noted that creating one single, nationally consistent cultivation scheme rather than eight individual arrangements will not only help speed up the legislative process but ultimately improve access to medicinal cannabis products as well. It would also ensure Australia's confidence of its compliance with international obligations under the United Nations’ Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, Ley added.

States and territories, law enforcement agencies and Federal parliamentarians will be provided with an exposure draft outlining the proposed legislative changes for further consultation from this week.

“We want to not only ensure these legislative amendments are rock solid, but that we can all work together to pass them in a bipartisan fashion as quickly as possible,” Ley said. "The important point is legislative changes are drafted and we’ve hit the start button for change," she pointed out.

Ley clarified that the national scheme is not related to the decriminalisation of cannabis for recreational use, which remains a law enforcement issue for individual states and territories.

In October 2015, the Australian government announced it will legalise the growing of cannabis for medicinal purposes, such as providing relief to people suffering from debilitating illnesses. "It is important therefore that we recognise those calls for help, that we put in place what we know will support a safe, legal and sustainable supply of a product," Ley said as quoted in a report by ABC.

She said the legalisation would allow cultivation similar to the way Tasmania has grown opium poppies for the world's morphine market.

Several states have already announced clinical trials for medicinal cannabis, such as the NSW government, which has committed $9 million for clinical trials and up to $12 million to set up a Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation.

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