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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 1 Hansard (11 February) . . Page.. 212..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

The medicinal use of cannabis has been a hot topic both in Australia and overseas in recent times. Recent advances in NSW follow changes to Canadian law, allowing severely ill patients with a doctor's approval to apply to Health Canada to grow and use cannabis for personal pain relief.

Humanitarian concerns should be foremost as Australia develops a national approach to medical cannabis.

The Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform recommends that Australians with chronic and terminal illnesses be allowed to access cannabis as a form of pain relief, in consultation with their family doctor.

In respect of the recreational use of cannabis, the considerations are entirely different. The 1998 publication The social impacts of the cannabis expiation notice scheme in South Australia makes some interesting observations about penalties for possession of the drug in some instances causing more damage than the drug itself. It states:

Many minor cannabis offenders in both SA and WA appear to be people who are otherwise law-abiding...the majority in both states had respect for the police and the law in general. It was also found that their offence apprehension and subsequent arrest (WA) or issuing of a CEN (SA) had no impact on their patterns of cannabis use...those in the WA system were also more likely to report relationship problems, accommodation problems, and further involvement with the criminal justice system related to their first minor cannabis offence.

Consequently, social exclusion and stigmatisation resulting from apprehension and contact with the criminal justice system can be seen to be impacting heavily on the lives of otherwise competent and law-abiding citizens. The Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform recommends the establishment of a nationally consistent policy framework for the decriminalisation of the possession and use of cannabis for personal purposes.

The issue of the recreational use of cannabis and the range of different views and evidence of the effect of the drug on users lead me to the view that we should consider regulating the supply of cannabis in order to minimise the harm it may be causing. There is, however, an acceptably strong case for legalising the medical use of cannabis. In September last year the Tasmanian Country Women's Association voted in favour of a motion calling on state and federal governments to legislate to make the drug a prescription pain relief treatment for people with non-curable conditions such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis. Other branches of the CWA, including the Illawarra branch, have pursued the same outcomes.

I am now interested in exploring with the ACT government and interested parties in the ACT community the practical issues we need to resolve in order to put a scheme such as this in place. I am aware that we could build in a consultation process with perhaps a drugs advisory committee, a review of the effectiveness of the regime after a couple of years and limitations on an acceptable quantity of the drug for a consumer to hold for medicinal purposes.

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