03 March 2015

Medicinal Cannabis for Australia - Why The Bloody Hell Not?

In March 2014, Dr Alex Wodak, Emeritus Consultant at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney and President, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, in an article titled Australia has no reason to disallow medical cannabis use stated;

"International acceptance of medicinal cannabis is growing because it can provide relief for people who can’t be sufficiently helped with current pharmaceutical drugs. But despite growing evidence of its usefulness in certain situations, medical use of cannabis remains illegal in Australia."

A visual summary of cannabis laws throughout the world

At the end of August Dr Wodak described an announcement by the then state of Victoria's Opposition (Victorians being able to take part in an international trial of a pharmaceutical being tested overseas on children with epilepsy) as 'nonsense' and said: "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". The Labor government vowed to instruct the Victorian Law Reform Commission to examine the prescription, manufacture and distribution of medical cannabis. Both plans ignore more than 100 randomised controlled clinical trials showing different forms of cannabis can treat chronic pain, muscle spasticity, nausea and stimulate appetite in people with weight loss due to cancer or HIV. "I like the idea of emphasising research ... but it also delays the inevitable. We want medicinal cannabis now," Dr Wodak said. "Large numbers of people believe it is beneficial."

In September, Guam became the first external US territory to legalise cannabis for medical use and now more than half of all US states permit medical use of cannabis. Washington and Colorado were the first US states to legalise recreational cannabis for adults 21 or older in 2012, Alaska (February 2015) and Oregon (from July 2015) also both legalised recreational cannabis for adults.

Map showing US cannabis laws
   State with legalised cannabis.
   State with both medical and decriminalisation laws.*
   State with legal medical cannabis.
   State with decriminalised cannabis possession laws.
   State with total cannabis prohibition
* Nevada has laws decriminalising possession for adults; non-medicinal cannabis possession remains a felony with a prison sentence for adults.Thus, Nevada is not considered to have fully decriminalised cannabis.

Meanwhile in Australia, cannabis oil producer Dr Andrew Katelaris, deregistered in 2005 for refusing to stop recommending and supplying cannabis to patients, said desperate families turn to him because they have run out of options. “When the law is unjust, resistance is mandatory." He has been arrested a dozen times and charged with a range of 'drug' offences but he continues, as he is prepared to take the risk to help children who have been declared untreatable by other doctors.

“It’s interesting what necessity does. What the [Australian] health ministers are doing is criminal. They’re depriving severely incapacitated children from a lifesaving medicine, it’s that black and white.”

He called on police to exercise discretion in relation to patients and suppliers. “It’s the greatest treason to do the ‘right thing’ for the wrong reason.”

And still in September 2014, Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister, after hearing the plight of Dan Haslam, declared that he endorsed the therapeutic use of cannabis. He claimed that “if a 'drug' is needed for medicinal purposes and dispensed without danger, then there should not be any doubt about its legality. If a drug is really not dangerous, then it should be available wherever it is useful”.


Following Dan and his family's campaign to legalise the medical use of cannabis, New South Wales (NSW) is now running three medical trials to allow children with severe epilepsy, adults with terminal illnesses and people with nausea caused by chemotherapy to use medical cannabis. "Dan and I learned about cannabis, and the rest is history - well hopefully the rest is slowly rewriting history," Mrs Haslam said. 

In the Australian Capital Territory, a 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.The Public Health Association has 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.

However, clinical trials of cannabis for medicinal purposes won’t see it approved for prescription and should not delay a law change allowing the use of the drug, an expert, the former Dean of the University of Melbourne’s medical school, Professor David Penington said in the Medical Journal Australia in February 2015. The varying potency of cannabis means it will never be marketed as a pharmaceutical.

“Cannabis can never be a pharmaceutical agent in the usual sense for medical prescription, as it contains a variety of components of variable potency and actions, depending on its origin, preparation and route of administration.”

Federally in Australia, you still have a chance to 'put your two bobs worth in' to medical cannabis laws currently being drafted. The Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2014 is still open for submissions and will close 13 March 2015.

Cooper Wallace, whose mother, Cassie Batten, was arrested after admitting in an interview that she administered the drug to her disabled and epileptic son. Police dropped the case on advice from the Office of Public Prosecutions.
"No parent should ever have to make a choice between saving their child and obeying the law."

Many, many Australians, young and old, do not have the time to wait for trials or new legislation, they need medicinal cannabis today; not next month or next year and they need good quality organic grown whole plant medicine to cater to their specific need - cannabis as a pharmaceutical isn't enough to save a life, as the healing properties of cannabis are many and varied and a pharmaceutical won't do it, it just won't.

So how many more Dan Haslam's must there be? 

Medicinal Cannabis for Australia - why the bloody hell not?

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