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Astrid Advocates for Change at Parliament House

On the 10th of May, 2024, a significant event took place that could shape the future of cannabis legislation in Australia. 

Astrid Dispensary & Clinic was invited by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to provide crucial insights during the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 inquiry. 

Our Founder and CEO, Lisa Nguyen, along with our COO, Kady Chemal, had the honour of presenting Astrid’s position at Parliament House in Canberra.

Astrid’s Vision for Cannabis Legislation

Astrid’s formal statement during the hearing highlighted several key points drawn from our experience in the natural medicine healthcare sector. 

We shared the insights into the shift we’ve observed since 2020, where a growing number of patients have moved from the illicit market to the medical sector. 

This transition, while positive, has placed significant pressure on healthcare professionals and the approval processes within the medical framework.

One of the primary concerns raised was the need for strict regulations and quality control measures. It’s imperative that products in the legal market meet high standards to ensure they are safe and reliable, contrasting sharply with those found in the illicit market. 

Astrid’s founder Lisa Nguyen at Parliament House in Canberra

This is essential not only for the safety of consumers but also for maintaining the integrity and trust in the legal cannabis industry.

Astrid advocated for the coexistence of medical and adult-use cannabis markets. We believe that such an approach would benefit both medical patients and adult-use consumers. 

Medical patients would continue to receive appropriate clinical care, while experienced cannabis consumers could access quality products from licensed retailers. This dual market structure would help relieve the pressure on the medical sector and promote overall well-being.

To support this vision, we proposed the establishment of a national cannabis regulator specifically for the adult-use market. 

This body would be responsible for standardising regulations, conducting routine product testing, and ensuring transparency and consistency in regulatory enforcement from cultivation to retail licensing. Such a framework would ensure that all aspects of the industry are held to the highest standards, providing a safe and trustworthy market for consumers.

Astrid’s COO Kady Chemal at Parliament House in Canberra

Astrid’s advocacy extends beyond mere regulation. We support responsible cannabis legislation as a means to enhance public health education, reduce opioid overdose rates, and lower crime levels. The legalisation and regulation of both medical and adult-use cannabis markets have the potential to change lives, break the stigma associated with cannabis use, and create a more informed and healthier society.

In conclusion, our participation in the Senate Inquiry on the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 at Parliament House was a pivotal moment for Astrid. It was a privilege to share our insights and advocate for a future where medical and adult-use cannabis markets can coexist, regulated by a dedicated national body. We believe that this approach will not only support our patients but also promote harm reduction and societal well-being. Astrid remains committed to leading the conversation on responsible cannabis legalisation and ensuring that the future of cannabis in Australia is safe, regulated, and beneficial for all.

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Navigating Workplace Drug Testing

Astrid’s government submission into the Workplace Drug Testing Inquiry. Learn more about Astrid and our advocacy for patients

At Astrid, our journey from day one has been about more than just providing care; it’s been about advocating for change. Founded in 2020 by Lisa Nguyen, a visionary and trained pharmacist in the medicinal cannabis space, Astrid has stood by our patients every step of the way, advocating for a world where their treatment choices are respected and understood. 

Astrid welcomes the opportunity to work closely with governments to look at a constructive step for employers in developing a policy that addresses the potential health and safety risks of medicinal cannabis as a potentially impairing medication. 

We have a strong focus on education, support, compliance, advocacy and transparency. We value patient safety as well as ensuring that patients are not discriminated against for being treated with medicinal cannabis.

In early December 2023, Astrid made an official submission to the Victorian Government, contributing to an investigation focused on workplace drug testing. This investigation, Inquiry into Workplace Drug Testing, carried out by a dedicated committee, aims to thoroughly review and assess the laws and regulatory measures governing drug testing in the workplace. A significant part of this inquiry is examining how prescription medicinal cannabis is treated within these frameworks. Additionally, the committee is evaluating if the existing workplace drug testing laws and procedures potentially discriminate against individuals.

Everyday Australians: Inquiry into Workplace Discrimination 

Since its legalisation in 2016, medicinal cannabis has proven to be an effective treatment option for many people in Victoria, prompting a significant reassessment of workplace drug policies for thousands across the state. 

In light of this, it’s imperative that workplace alcohol and other drugs policies are updated to align with current regulations, ensuring that medicinal cannabis is recognised as a legitimate form of treatment. This acknowledgment is crucial not only for the welfare of hundreds of thousands of everyday Australians but also for fostering a more inclusive and understanding work environment.

Medicinal cannabis patients were estimated to be almost 3% of the Australian population in 2022 and over one million prescriptions were issued in 2023.

Within our extensive community of tens of thousands of patients, a notable segment has faced issues related to workplace drug testing. Specifically, some individuals have been unjustly dismissed or denied employment opportunities due to their use or disclosure of medicinal cannabis for therapeutic purposes. This situation underscores the pressing need for broader awareness and more inclusive employment practices concerning medicinal cannabis treatment.

Misconception of Impairment: Rethinking Workplace Drug Policy 

The recognition that substance use, including both prescription medications and illegal drugs, can influence workplace safety is an important concern for employers and policy makers alike. However, prevailing workplace policies often fail to reflect a nuanced understanding of cannabis and its components, such as THC (Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). This lack of distinction has resulted in unjust workplace drug policies affecting individuals lawfully using medicinal cannabis as prescribed by their doctors.

One of the critical misconceptions surrounding THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, is its detection in drug tests. Often, the presence of THC is interpreted as an indication of current impairment, despite the fact that these tests primarily reveal past use. It’s vital to understand that the effects of THC are temporary, and its presence in a drug test does not inherently signify an ongoing impairment or an inability to fulfil work responsibilities.

Supporting this, a recent study suggests that the acute impact of prescribed medicinal cannabis on cognitive function is minimal among patients with chronic health conditions. This challenges the persistent stigma that equates THC detection with impairment, undermining the legitimacy of medicinal cannabis use.

In light of these findings, it is essential for workplace policies to evolve, acknowledging that a positive test for THC does not automatically imply an inability to perform job duties safely and effectively. Moving beyond outdated perceptions and towards a more informed approach can ensure that policies are fair and inclusive, respecting the rights of individuals using prescribed medicinal cannabis while maintaining workplace safety.

Astrid’s team of doctors, nurses and pharmacists advocate for plant-medicine patients in Australia

Medical Discrimination: Policy Review & Fair Framework

Astrid envisions a future where workplaces foster inclusivity, recognising prescribed medicinal cannabis without bias.

We urge Victorian employers to revise their drug and alcohol policies to support and safeguard all employees, particularly those prescribed medicinal cannabis for health management. This involves working closely with employees and their healthcare providers to acknowledge medicinal cannabis as a prescribed treatment. The goal is to cultivate a supportive atmosphere, free from stigma, where medicinal use, as guided by a healthcare professional, is respected.

For policy development, it’s crucial for employers to give employees the chance to collaborate with their prescribing doctor to manage their conditions in a way that doesn’t hinder their work performance.

Employers should support employees who are prescribed medicinal cannabis as treatment, seeking to create a framework that considers use, as per the doctor’s instructions, to be managed responsibly.

When an employee discloses, or if it’s discovered, they are using medication (including cannabis for therapeutic purposes) that could lead to impairment or reduced functionality, the employer must accommodate by implementing the appropriate policies and procedures.

Internationally, Canada stands out for its approach in a legalised cannabis market, focusing on assessing impairment rather than simply detecting THC. Inspired by such models, a potential pathway for Australia might involve adapting these proven guidelines to meet the specific demands and context of the Australian landscape.

Astrid’s Ongoing Advocacy

As we continue to navigate the complexities of medicinal cannabis regulation and workplace policies, Astrid remains committed to advocating for our patients’ rights and well-being. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this critical conversation and look forward to seeing positive changes in how medicinal cannabis users are treated in the workplace.

Together, we can work towards a more inclusive and understanding approach to medicinal cannabis in Australia.

If you have a story you’d like to share with Astrid, please email media@astrid.healh 

For more information on navigating natural healthcare, contact the expert team at Astrid Dispensary & Clinic.

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Understanding Medicinal Cannabis and Driving Laws in Australia

Astrid’s ongoing support and advocacy for our patients. In the evolving landscape of medicinal cannabis, one of the most pressing concerns for patients is how its use intersects with driving laws.

At Astrid, we understand the complexity of these legal and healthcare issues. We are committed to advocating for a fair and informed approach to drug driving regulations.

Since 2020 under the leadership of pharmacist Lisa Nguyen, Astrid has been at the forefront of advocating for the rights and recognition of medicinal cannabis patients. Our mission extends beyond care to championing change, ensuring patients’ who are eligible for treatment are both respected and understood. We aim to address misconceptions and advocate for policies that reflect the reality of this treatment option which is not a cause for discrimination.

Here’s what you need to know about the current Australian drug driving laws, the challenges they pose, and how Astrid is working to support patients and influence change.

Astrid’s Commitment to Our Patients’s Livelihoods 

Our patients are everyday Australians – parents, employees, business owners and leading members of their community. By sharing patient stories and the latest research, we aim to highlight the discrimination and challenges faced under the current drug driving laws and push for necessary changes.

Astrid’s team is at the forefront of both individual and systemic advocacy for patients navigating the challenges of drug driving laws. 

On an individual level, we offer support to patients facing drug driving charges by connecting them with specialised solicitors. When appropriate, we also help share their stories with the media to raise awareness about the impact of current laws.

Systemically, we’re actively engaging with State Governments and key stakeholders to advocate for reform. 

The Challenge of Inconsistent Drug Driving Laws Across Australian States 

Drug driving laws differ significantly across Australian states, creating a patchwork of regulations that can be confusing and challenging for patients. 

Currently, driving with detectable levels of THC is illegal in all states – except Tasmania. 

This inconsistency not only complicates the legal landscape for medicinal cannabis patients but also underscores the need for a more unified and fair approach to drug driving laws nationwide.

The Impact of Research on Future Legislation

Significant research efforts, including those by the Lambert Institute and Dr. Thomas Arkell from Swinburne University, have been focused on understanding the impact of medicinal cannabis on driving abilities. This body of research supports the argument that medicinal cannabis, when used as prescribed, should be considered differently from recreational use in the context of driving laws. 

Decision-makers must recognise medicinal cannabis as a legitimate treatment. Patients deserve the basic human rights to access medicine that improves their quality of life without the fear of legal repercussions.

Learning from International Approaches to Impairment  

Australia approaches drug driving with the goal of detecting THC rather than the impairment of driving abilities. This approach to road-side testing in Australia results in punishments for those with cannabis detected but with the goal of deterring drug driving.

Across the Netherlands, Belgium and France, there are legal limits for THC in oral fluid but typically only request samples when there is evidence of impaired driving. 

In Canada, where cannabis use was fully legalised in 2018, they’ve introduced prohibited THC levels similar to those of alcohol levels. Oral fluid tests such as those used in Australia can be used to confirm a suspected case of drug-impaired driving, but only when a Canadian officer can first demonstrate impaired driving.

These international examples offer valuable lessons for Australia, suggesting that a shift towards impairment-based testing could better balance road safety with the rights of medicinal cannabis patients.

Astrid’s Ongoing Commitment to Advocacy 

As we continue to navigate the complexities of medicinal cannabis regulation and driving laws, Astrid remains dedicated to advocating for our patients’ rights and well-being. 

Our goal is to work towards a legal framework that recognises the needs of medicinal cannabis users, ensuring they can access their treatment without undue fear or discrimination.

For more information on how to navigate the intersection of medicinal cannabis and driving laws, or to learn more about Astrid’s advocacy efforts, contact the expert team at Astrid Dispensary & Clinic.

Together, we can drive change for a more inclusive and understanding approach to medicinal cannabis in Australia.

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Astrid’s Stance on Legalising Cannabis in Australia

Australia is currently navigating the complexities of legalising and decriminalising cannabis. We are encouraged by this shift and advocate for public health to be a central focus in these discussions.

The following blog discusses Astrid’s submission on the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023

At Astrid, we are dedicated to exceptional patient care with a focus on education, support, compliance, advocacy, and transparency.

As a company that is primarily led by pharmacists, we value patient safety in both the medical and adult use of cannabis frameworks.

Read more below about Astrid’s stance on the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023. 

The Evolving Attitude towards Legalisation of Cannabis in Australia

Australia is witnessing diverse approaches to the legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis. We view this trend positively, emphasising the paramount importance of public health in all discussions related to cannabis legalisation in our country. This is positive and public health promotion should be at the heart of all discussions around the legalisation of cannabis in Australia. 

There is an increased use of cannabis and widespread public support for changing legislation to permit the use of cannabis. Recent trends show a significant increase in cannabis use and public support for legislative changes. A new survey showed that 50% of Australians support the legalisation of growing plants at home (Vice and YouGov).

Between 2016 and 2019, both lifetime and recent cannabis use increased significantly. In 2019, 36% of Australians (7.6 million people) had used it in their lifetime, and 11.6% had used it in the last 12 months, up from 10.4% (Aus Gov). 

Astrid Dispensary recognises the evolving perspective of the Australian community on cannabis. Our commitment lies in establishing a framework that enhances public safety amidst these changing attitudes.

Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023

Astrid’s Key Three Recommendations for the Legalising Cannabis Bill

1. Labelling and Regulation 

We agree with the creation of a Cannabis Australian National Agency (CANA) that will determine the packaging, labelling and storage requirements for cannabis products. Reasonable steps must be considered for licence holders who are manufacturing products, ie. surveillance, security measures and records management.

We seek further clarity within the Bill and the role of CANA in regulating cannabis products. 

2. Guidelines for Patient Safety in Products 

Further to the manufacturing of cannabis products, we seek clarity around the supply of cannabis products. We strongly urge for the Government to establish guidelines around the supply of cannabis (ie. monthly limits, and incorporate potency levels for THC), to ensure patient safety. 

3. Responsible Service Rules

In reference to Clause 29 and conditions for licences – general, and the Responsible Service of Cannabis, we urge for clarity around the rules of “Responsible Service of Cannabis.” 

Training should be mandatory for any personnel that is selling and/or providing information on cannabis within an adult use framework. 

Astrid Dispensary and Clinic is dedicating to supporting patients with medicinal cannabis in Australia

Five Further Recommendations from Astrid

Public Health Education

We encourage the consideration of a public health promotion campaign funded by the Federal Government so that the general public is informed and educated on the potential health risks and consequences associated with the use of cannabis, particularly young people. 

Advisory Committee

Other than the establishment of CANA, we strongly encourage the Government to consider an Advisory Committee that will provide advice on the development of the Bill and plan to allow an adult use framework in Australia. 

Drug Driving Laws

We recommend for drug driving laws to be amended across all states and territories and to ensure that best measures are considered with a standard of measuring impairment from cannabis.

Health Services Support 

We ask for the Federal Government to ensure that access to health and social services are improved to address any issues associated with cannabis use. It’s crucial to have access to reliable resources and support services for individuals dealing with challenges related to their usage. 

Controls for Products 

We recommend for controls to be put in place around the potency and content of cannabis products. We want to ensure all products are safe for patients and limits are controlled.  

Looking to the future: Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023

Astrid sees the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 as a progressive step forward in drug law reform for Australia, in allowing adult personal use of cannabis. This shift provides opportunities for job creation, fostering a strong local industry, and reducing the prevalence of the illicit market. 

At Astrid, we strongly support an adult cannabis framework prioritising safety, harm reduction, and consumer health. 

Everything we do at Astrid, we do it with our patient’s care in mind. 

Questions about Astrid or natural medicines? Contact us or visit our dispensaries for dedicated care and assistance.

References
https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=s1353
https://www.vice.com/en/article/4a3pm9/half-australians-support-decriminalising-cannabis
https://au.yougov.com/politics/articles/48246-australians-would-support-a-bill-that-legalises-cannabis
https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia/contents/drug-types/cannabis
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Travelling soon? Before you pack, know how to travel with medicinal cannabis 

Australians love to travel. In the 2022-23 year, there were 8,337,080 overseas trips taken by Australian residents, more than 5 times the previous year.

With the top destination countries being New Zealand, Indonesia, the USA, the UK and India. Domestically, over 36 million trips have been recorded in the 2022-23 year.

When travelling, it’s prudent to stay organised with your medications. However, it’s crucial to note that the legal regulations regarding travelling with medicinal cannabis are more intricate compared to many other medications. Regulations vary not only between countries but also, in certain instances, among different Australian states. It is crucial to be well-prepared and knowledgeable about local laws and regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable travel experience.

Travelling in Australia

Medicinal cannabis is legal in every Australian state however the requirements around prescribing and dispensing can differ slightly depending on the state.

When considering domestic travel, it is permissible to journey between states with medicinal cannabis as long as an approved doctor has prescribed it, and it is carried in its original container with the pharmacy-dispensed label. Possession of cannabis which has not been obtained legally is still an offence in most states and territories. 

Some clinics offer medicinal cannabis cards. It is important to know that these are not recognised as a legal document and do not replace the requirement to travel with the original, labelled containers as dispensed by the pharmacy. Whilst it is not required when travelling within Australia, it may be useful to have a letter from your doctor describing the cannabis medicine you are taking and how much you are bringing with you.

Overseas Travel

Heading overseas introduces additional complexities. It is the patient’s responsibility and not that of the doctor, pharmacist or travel agent to verify the legality of medicinal cannabis at their destination and understand any relevant rules or restrictions. While some countries permit travel with medicinal cannabis, others may require you to obtain a permit. Conversely, certain destinations may consider it illegal or a controlled substance, with severe penalties associated with its possession, even if prescribed legally in Australia.

Beyond destination regulations, it is essential to account for the requirements set by your airline or cruise line, as well as any layover destinations in your journey.

Some of the most popular destinations for travel for Australians are New Zealand, Indonesia, the UK and the US.  Let’s take a look at some of the considerations for those choosing to travel to these destinations.

Travelling to New Zealand

Medicinal cannabis is legal in New Zealand and it is possible to travel there with prescribed medications that have been dispensed in Australia so long as:

  • the product has been prescribed to you by a doctor
  • you have a copy of the prescription or a letter from your doctor stating that you are being treated with the product
  • you declare the product on your passenger arrival card
  • you carry the product in its original labelled container, and
  • you are bringing no more than a 3-month supply of a CBD product or a 1-month supply of any other medicinal cannabis product.

Additionally, only vaporisers approved as a medical device by an overseas regulator can be imported into New Zealand. This ensures the vaporiser will be a safe method for administering medicinal cannabis. 

Other vaporiser devices, and utensils with prohibited features, continue to be prohibited from New Zealand and may be confiscated by Customs.

Travelling to Indonesia

Cannabis-based products such as cannabis oil and creams, hemp, CBD, THC, hash and edibles remain illegal in Indonesia, including for medicinal purposes. Having a medical prescription does not make it legal. If you take such products to Indonesia or purchase or use them in Indonesia, you can be arrested and face imprisonment, fines, deportation or the death penalty.

Astrid Dispensary and Clinic explores the travel requirements for medicinal cannabis

Travelling to the UK

Medicinal cannabis is available in the UK however it is highly regulated and most cannabis based products are classified as a schedule 1 drug.

The Home office advice currently states that “You cannot bring schedule 1 drugs into the UK without a licence. Licences for schedule 1 drugs are limited to research or other special purposes and therefore it is recommended you do not travel to the UK with your Australian prescribed medicinal cannabis. 

Further information regarding applying for permits to travel to the UK is available here

Travelling to the USA

Some U.S. states have legalised cannabis removing all penalties for possession and personal use. However, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level in the USA and therefore you can not travel to the USA with your prescribed medicinal cannabis from Australia. 

In short, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) website mentions that marijuana and certain cannabis products, including some CBD oils, are still prohibited by federal law. The exception is for products with less than 0.3% THC or those approved by the FDA. 

While TSA primarily focuses on security and doesn’t specifically search for drugs, if illegal substances are found during screening, they will involve law enforcement. It’s important to note that many US airlines don’t allow cannabis in any form on board.

Planes, boats and automobiles

When planning a road trip, it’s crucial to be aware of the regulations regarding the intake of medicinal cannabis products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) while driving. It’s noteworthy that these laws differ across Australian states, and similar regulations exist overseas. In addition to potential penalties abroad, it’s essential to recognize that contravening local drug driving laws may result in adverse consequences, including the possibility of travel insurance not covering accidents. Therefore, understanding and adhering to these laws is paramount to a safe and trouble-free road trip experience.

If travelling on a cruise ship, even if departing and arriving at an Australian port, it is important to first check with the cruise line if they will allow you to bring medicinal cannabis onboard, many do not allow cannabis onboard even if legally prescribed.

Additionally, certain airlines will also not allow passengers onboard with prescribed medicinal cannabis products, even if the destination does allow. It’s important to check this with the individual airline before travelling.

If travelling with a vaporiser it is important to remember that many of these contain lithium batteries. Batteries that are installed in portable electronic devices may be kept in checked luggage under some conditions. You should discuss this with your airline when you check in. All spare or loose batteries must be in your carry-on baggage only. Also, the vaporiser should be clean with no cannabis flower inside. Bring any paperwork that mentions that your cannabis needs to be taken via vaporiser with you.

Remember, the laws and regulations around medicinal cannabis internationally and in Australia change with time so it’s important to ensure that you have the most up to date  information for your destination and carrier before you travel.

In summary, Australians need to navigate complex legal issues when carrying medicinal cannabis, with variations between countries and Australian states. Awareness of regulations for specific destinations, such as New Zealand allowing travel with prescribed cannabis and Indonesia strictly prohibiting it, is crucial. Additionally, understanding laws for driving with medicinal cannabis and checking airline policies on its carriage are essential to ensure a safe and compliant travel experience.

To learn more about plant-based therapies  or ask any questions, please contact our team on (03) 9077 2446 or hello@astrid.health, or visit one of our dispensaries

References:

https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/industry/tourism-and-transport/overseas-arrivals-and-departures-australia/latest-release
https://www.tra.gov.au/en/domestic/domestic-tourism-results
https://www.medicinalcannabis.nsw.gov.au/patients/travel
https://www.casa.gov.au/operations-safety-and-travel/travel-and-passengers/you-fly/batteries-and-portable-power-packs#Sparebatteries
https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/regulation-health-and-disability-system/medicinal-cannabis-agency/medicinal-cannabis-agency-information-consumers#enteringnz
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/controlled-drugs-personal-licences
https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/destinations/asia/indonesia
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/medical-cannabis/
https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/medical-marijuana
https://rockinst.org/intheweeds/
https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/medical-marijuana