If you live in one of the 28 American states that have legalized medical cannabis and are planning a trip Down Under to celebrate, you might be wondering about the state of Australia’s cannabis laws. Medical marijuana, as you may have heard, is federally legal in Australia now, albeit in a restricted scope. But can you travel to Australia with lawfully prescribed medical marijuana? It might depend on which Australian government department you ask.
According to Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection, you do not need a permit to bring in most prescription medicines even if they contain a controlled substance—although you should carry your prescription. The department’s advice indicates some exceptions to that rule, including steroids and thalidomide, but doesn’t mention medical cannabis. Elsewhere, however, DIBP explicitly states that “marijuana and cannabis” are prohibited substances which cannot be brought into Australia.
The Office of Drug Control has a different view: Despite cannabis being prohibited, “travellers with Sativex and CBD oil should email DCS@health.gov.au to clarify whether they can travel with their medication,” the office advises. Sativex is the brand name of a cannabis extract, one of the only cannabis-based medicines registered in Australia. CBD oil refers to oil containing cannabidiol, a cannabinoid extracted from cannabis.
So if you have a prescription for Sativex or a doctor’s recommendation for CBD oil, can you bring that in? Leafly asked Australia’s Department of Health, which oversees the Office of Drug Control, to clarify. We received a response from a spokesperson of yet another government department, the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
A Therapeutic Goods Administration spokesperson said travelers to Australia (including Australian residents) with a valid prescription may carry up to a three-month supply of a CBD product into Australia. But beware trying to bring THC. The spokesperson was emphatic that “Cannabis plant material (e.g. flowers, leaves) or products containing THC are not permitted entry with travellers to Australia.”
In other words, the only kind of cannabis you can safely bring into Australia (after politely emailing the government to let them know) is CBD oil. Bringing in unprocessed cannabis with any THC, even if you have a lawful prescription—and even though medical cannabis is “legal” in Australia—will likely land you in hot water at the airport. You’d probably have better luck bringing in an invasive species of cane toad.
For Australian border control, there’s no distinction between cannabis legally prescribed by an American doctor for pain and cannabis smuggled in for black-market sale. That view seems like a bit of a double standard given that other prescription drugs with street market value are not treated with the same aggressive approach.
Prescription drug abuse was declared a national emergency by the Australian Medical Association last year, yet the government still seems to be more concerned with travelers bringing small amounts of lawful, prescribed cannabis into the country. If Australia wants to genuinely recognize cannabis as a medicine, it’s still got a long way to go.
Another important factor to consider when traveling with medical cannabis is where you’re your plane might stop. Flying into Australia may mean a stopover in a country like Singapore, for example, which has some of the harshest drug penalties in the world. The narcotics officers who patrol Changi airport can require anyone they reasonably suspect of drug use to submit to a urine test. A positive test could lead to prosecution in a country that has reversed the burden of proof for many drug offenses—and where some cannabis crimes even carry a death penalty.