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Medicinal cannabis: importation and the traveller's exemption

11 October 2019

Medicinal cannabis products can be imported into Australia for the treatment of patients through a number of mechanisms.

Recently, the Department of Health has allowed for the bulk sponsored import of medicinal cannabis products.Information about medicinal cannabis products and existing licenced manufacturers and importers can be found on the ODC website: Importers and manufacturers of medicinal cannabis products. For medicinal practitioners using the above prescription pathways, these products are readily available in Australia and there are no delays to access as these bulk sponsored imported products do not need to be imported for individual patients.

Personal Importation Scheme

Under the Therapeutic Good Regulations 1990 (Schedule 5, item 1), it is also normally allowable to import unapproved medicines (e.g. through the mail or by courier) for the use of the importer or the importer's immediate family, subject to specific requirements (see Personal importation scheme).

Cannabis and cannabis based products however, are excluded from personal importation, other than through the traveller's exemption process (outlined below) because they contain a substance the importation of which is prohibited under the Customs Act 1901.

Medical practitioner importation

However, cannabis and cannabis based products can be imported on a patient's behalf by a specified medical practitioner under the exemptions for certain uses of unregistered goods in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. To do so, a prescribing doctor must be licenced under the Customs Act to import the specific medicinal cannabis product on behalf of a specific patient under Special Access Schemes A or B. The application form for that import licence can be found on the ODC website: Application forms.

Traveller's exemption

Under subregulation 5(2) of the Customs (Prohibited Import) Regulations 1956, a traveller (or traveller's carer) on board a ship or aircraft entering Australia to carry up to 3 months' supply of a therapeutic good for the medical treatment of that passenger or another passenger under his or her care, where that good was prescribed by a medical practitioner. Evidence that the amount imported does not exceed those specified in the prescription for a 3 month period may be required to be provided on entry into Australia.

This exemption does not specify the country of origin of the prescription, but does require that the importer has a prescription given by a medical practitioner and was supplied to the person in accordance with that prescription (i.e. by dispensing through a pharmacist, rather than supply through some other form of retail or other mechanism). This may be evidenced in the packaging and label on the therapeutic good.

Note that a prescription is a particular form of medical documentation which is a higher standard of documentary evidence than the 'written authority' required for the personal import of non-controlled substances. Medicinal cannabis is often provided in other countries by mechanisms other than a prescription, and such authorisations/provisions may not meet the requirements of the Customs (Prohibited Import) Regulations 1956.

State and territory requirements

Please note that state and territory governments have specific requirements about prescription and possession of Schedule 8 medicines (which include most opiates, some benzodiazepines, and medicinal cannabis products other than cannabidiol). These differ between each state and territory and may include that a prescription from a medical practitioner registered in that state or territory is required for lawful possession of the medicine.

In certain states, such as Tasmania, there are additional requirements for cannabidiol products which apply, even when in Schedule 4.

For further information it is strongly recommended that you contact your local state/ territory health department prior to travelling into Australia with medicinal cannabis products.

Contact details for the states and territories can be found here: Access to medicinal cannabis products: steps to using access schemes.