Politicians Re-Discover Medical Cannabis as an Issue

Wednesday 17 September 2014 @ 11.27 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The value of medical cannabis in the treatment of people with life-threatening seizures, as an offset to the side-effects of chemotherapy, or in the treating of, or relieving the symptoms of, a range of illnesses and conditions has been clear for quite a long while. Finally, it seems to have also become clear to at least two Australian state governments as well.

Victoria First Cab off the Rank

First cab off the rank in terms of action has been the Victorian state government who, through a media release from Premier Denis Napthine (on 16 September 2014), claim to have taken "the lead in medical cannabis trials".

The Victorian Premier's claim being a precursor to the introduction of a Bill into the Victorian Parliament to facilitate medical cannabis trials in Victoria, "another significant step" it is said towards the use of marijuana compounds in treating or relieving the symptoms of a range of illnesses and conditions.

The Bill jointly announced with the Minister for Health David Davis is the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Clinical Trials) Bill 2014 (the Victorian Bill), and the Minister claims it will "streamline the processes to enable properly regulated trials".

What the Victorian Law Does

As explained by the Victorian Health Minister in the media release, current Victorian laws require a registered medical practitioner to apply for a separate permit for every patient to be engaged in a clinical trial, and researchers and other people involved would presently be committing possession and use offences. The legal changes proposed by the Victorian Bill will remove these barriers and ensure that those involved in clinical trials are clearly authorised.

Further, the Victorian Bill ensures that, only

"bona fide cannabis-based products of known and standardised quality from recognised pharmaceutical companies that are already approved for medical use overseas or in Australia can be considered for clinical trials".

This, the Victorian Health Minister says, is a measure to address the concerns that the parents of severely ill children have resorted to treating their children with unregulated cannabis products, with purportedly positive results, because conventional medicine has not met their needs.

NSW Follows Victorian Cab Down a Road Previously Travelled

As we have previously posted (see NSW Parliamentary Committee Hands Down Report in Legalising Medical Use of Cannabis) as recently as 17 May 2013 a NSW Parliamentary Committee Report was handed down recommending the legalisation of the medical use of marijuana and cannabis for people with terminal conditions including but not limited to those in severe chronic pain or those for whom HIV has progressed to AIDS. Not only that most recent committee recommendation, but as far back as 2000, the then NSW premier Bob Carr also commissioned a report on medicinal cannabis from a distinguished committee who also strongly recommended that the "state government allow cannabis use for medicinal purposes," a recommendation then subsumed by moral discord over implementation and problems with continued bans on recreational use.

Now comes NSW Premier Mike Baird's, announcement reported in The Guardian on Tuesday (16 September 2014), where he is quoted as saying, "he was moved to act after meeting cancer patient Daniel Haslam, who has been using the drug illegally to relieve his suffering".

The measures being discussed by the NSW Premier will allow the police to exercise discretion not to charge terminally ill adults who use cannabis and are reported to be a move to formalise what police were already doing. As well, the ABC reports that a working group has been formed to set up a trial, which will look at ways to address issues of supply and distribution, and report back by the end of the year.

Response and Comment

In Victoria, it is reported by The Age that leading psychiatrist Pat McGorry and Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation President Alex Wodak have recently questioned whether anything would actually change when the Victorian Bill is passed. Professor McGorry is quoted as saying with respect to trials being facilitated by the proposed Victorian law:

"My perception is that it should be possible already, especially if it's synthetic, . . ."

Dr Wodak is reported as saying:

"It sounds good, . . . But if you look at the small print, it's really nothing. This might benefit 10 people in Victoria in five years' time."

Interestingly, The Age also reports that the West Australian Health Minister Kim Hames, who previously said, "legalising the drug would send the wrong message to the community," is now being "supportive of a move to legalise medicinal marijuana".

In NSW, the NSW Premier's announcement is one that is reported as having the Labor opposition's support for a Bill to "legalise the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes".

It is also reported that Nationals MP Kevin Anderson is soon to introduce a private member’s bill proposing that terminally ill patients and their carers be able to legally possess up to 15 grams of cannabis.

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products.


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