13 March 2015

Medical Cannabis Australia - Gathering Political Momentum

A Timeline Of Change

Public and media pressure grew around Australia throughout 2014 and into 2015 to address a burgeoning community concern about the illegality of cannabis consumption by seriously and terminally ill people. Politicians were seemingly remarkably quick to act on this normally sensitive topic, with a number of key announcements and decisions occurring, leading to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on 10th October giving a green light to trials of medical cannabis in New South Wales (NSW). A timeline of events includes:
  • May 2013: A NSW cross-party Upper House committee unanimously recommended making cannabis available in small quantities for terminally ill and AIDS patients. The committee, covering five political parties, said: 'Our reading of the evidence – including rigorous scientific evidence – is that cannabis products are emerging as a promising area of medicine, most notably in respect of a number of painful conditions that do not respond to existing treatments'. Despite the committee’s favourable report to Parliament, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner ruled out decriminalisation, saying there was limited evidence on the clinical efficacy of cannabis for medical purposes.
  • January 2014: Queensland (Qld) Premier (now former), Campbell Newman, announced his support for trials of medical cannabis.
  • April 2014: On behalf of her terminally ill son, Lucy Haslam launched an online petition seeking decriminalisation of the use of medical cannabis (over 200,000 supporters signed).
  • May 2014: Nationals NSW MP Kevin Anderson announced plans to introduce a Private Member's Bill seeking approval for the use of cannabis by terminally ill patients only. He gained the approval of NSW Premier Mike Baird to work on the Bill. Greens NSW MP John Kaye delayed moving a similar Bill to allow time for Mr Anderson’s to proceed.
  • July 2014: WA Opposition Leader Mark McGowan announced the WA ALP’s support for specific forms of cannabis to be available under supervision/s for chronically and  terminally ill people when other medications have failed.
  • July 2014: a Parliamentary inquiry into the medical use of cannabis in Tasmania called for submissions after the Legislative Council backed its establishment.
  • July 2014: ACT Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury put forward draft legislation to allow terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to grow cannabis and use the drug to alleviate their pain and symptoms. A Legislative Assembly committee report on the issue is to be tabled by June 2015.
  • August 2014: Commonwealth Government states it would not oppose state or territory moves to decriminalise cannabis for medicinal purposes (Source: Medew, J &  Harrison, D 2014. 'Australian National Council on Drugs takes a deep  breath on cannabis', Canberra Times, 1 September 2014).
  • August 2014: Northern Territory Minister for Health Robyn Lambley announced that the NT Government will discuss the idea of legalising medical cannabis as a matter of priority in order to reach a policy position.
  • August 2014: release of Australian National Council on Drugs 2014, Medicinal use of cannabis: background and information paper, ANCD, Canberra.
  • September 2014:  NSW Government announced that a clinical trial for medical cannabis will be established by the government to further explore the role that cannabis can play in providing relief for patients suffering from a range of chronic or terminal illnesses. A Working Group is formed to set up the trial, due to report back by the end of 2014.
  • September 2014: Legislation to facilitate clinical trials of medical cannabis is passed by the Victorian State Parliament. An Expert Advisory Committee will be appointed to work through the complex issues of obtaining approval to trial the use of cannabis compounds.
  • September 2014:Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson announced support for trials of  medical cannabis, if subject to strong regulation.
  • September 2014: Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke publicly of his support for the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes: “I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates.” He also said further medical trials were not needed; i.e. that should go straight to provision of medicinal cannabis: “My basic contention is that something that has been found to be safe in a reliable jurisdiction shouldn’t have to be tested again here.”
  • TICS registration letter
    September 2014: NSW announced that under new measures police will be allowed to exercise discretion not to charge terminally-ill adults who use cannabis (Terminal Illness Cannabis Scheme).
  • October 2014: Media reported that Hemp Foods Australia had been approved to produce a form of medicinal cannabis (hemp oil) in NSW for export.
  • October 2014: COAG meeting led to a national agreement to allow a trial of medical cannabis in NSW. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government announced that it will take part in the research. The Victorian Government appointed an expert advisory committee to advise the state on its involvement in a national approach to medical cannabis. Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman said his government will collaborate on a national approach, which could include conducting trials in that state.
  • November 2014: Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2014. The Bill would establish a Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis to be responsible for formulating rules and monitoring compliance with those rules for licensing the production, manufacture, supply, use, experimental use and import and export of medicinal cannabis; and provides for a national system to regulate the cultivation, production and use of medicinal cannabis products, and related activities such as research. In the House of Representatives MP Warren Entsch co-sponsored the Bill with George Christensen MP (National Party), Melissa Parke MP (Labor) and Adam Bandt MP (Australian Greens). MP Warren Entsch congratulated Australian Greens Senator Richard di Natale for his “outstanding work and research” on the Bill. Senator di Natale co-sponsored the Bill when it was introduced to the Senate alongside Senator Ian Macdonald (Liberal Party), Senator David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democratic) and Senator Anne Urquhart (Labor).
  • February 2015 - Dan Haslam died from bowel cancer at age 25 years. NSW is now running three medical trials that allow children with severe epilepsy, adults with terminal illnesses and people with nausea caused by chemotherapy to use medical cannabis.
  • February 2015 - Public submissions to the ACT inquiry, considering legislation introduced by Greens MP Shane Rattenbury to legalise medicinal cannabis, closed on 13 February (submissions will be released after they have been considered). "There are some medical professionals who think that every medicine should always go through (the Therapeutic Goods Administration testing) process. Of course this ignores the fact that alternative medicines are used by many, many people in Australia all the time." Public hearings as part of the inquiry will take place in the coming months.
  • March 2015 - The PHAA told an ACT enquiry that doctors should manage a tightly regulated, compassionate regime for the use of medicinal cannabis in Australia. They labelled state and territory governments, including the ACT, "out of step with the attitudes and behaviour of much of the general public and professional opinion" on the use of cannabis to treat some illnesses. A position statement incorporated into the organisation's submission to the Legislative Assembly inquiry considering the use of cannabis for medical purposes says the fact the drug is already widely used illegally means a regulated system is unlikely to lead to more illicit drug taking in the community. It calls for the ACT and NSW to offer terminally ill people access to cannabis "where their doctors and the state or territory health department agree that cannabis may provide palliation benefits to the patient".
  • March 2015 - Submissions to the (federal) Senate Standing Committees on Legal and Constitutional Affairs regarding the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2014 close 13 March 2015. Submissions to date can be accessed here.
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