Although Australian practitioners can legally prescribe medicinal cannabis for a range of conditions, the great majority of patients who feel they might benefit are turning to the black market for their supply.

This disturbing claim was raised at a recent meeting between RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel and the United in Compassion charity whose primary mission is “advocating for patient access to Full Spectrum herbal medicinal Cannabis extracts and dried herb Cannabis; in a manner which is safe, effective, affordable, equitable and favourable for patients, for the dignified relief of suffering.”

At present only a small number of people have been able to access cannabis through legal prescription - estimates range from 100 to 300. In frustration, many more - up to 100,000, it was suggested - are turning to illegal suppliers whose grade of product comes with no guarantees.

While Dr Seidel said he would not consider medicinal cannabis as “the first choice of treatment for any medical condition”, he believed it “might well be a treatment of last resort for quite a few of my patients.”

Emergency physician David Caldicott, a well-known critic of Australia’s drug laws, notably in regard to bans on pill testing at music festivals, likened the nation’s current experience with medical cannabis to a “train wreck”. He said a range of developed countries, including Israel, Canada, and Holland, had fared much better.

Attendees at the meeting spoke of government hypocrisy, saying legalised prescribing was just a veneer over continued prohibition.

Dr Seidel said, “The regulators failed us by making Oxycontin so widely accessible, on the PBS.  Now we have a drug we know doesn’t work, is causing harm, and is still on the PBS. We should get it right for medical cannabis once and for all.”