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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 7 Hansard (30 July) . . Page.. 3012..


MS TUCKER (continuing):

appetite-inhibiting nausea experienced by people undergoing chemotherapy to joint pain endured by people with aggressive arthritis. The New South Wales government has announced its intention to legalise the medicinal use of cannabis but, in trying to find the legislative approach, appears to have tied itself up in knots.

The project began with the New South Wales government convening a working party on the issue chaired by Professor Wayne Hall, Executive Director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, and included medical academics/clinicians, representatives from the NSW Cancer Council, the AIDS Council of New South Wales, the Law Society of New South Wales, the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and government agencies including New South Wales Police and New South Wales Health. The report, released in November 2000, was titled "Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes". In brief, the working party concluded:

... that crude cannabis cannot be prescribed and is unlikely to ever be prescribed in Australia. There are also substantial obstacles to the medical prescription of cannabinoid substances. At best it will be some years before any cannabinoid drugs are registered for medical use in Australia. Given evidence that patients with some of the conditions indicated are currently using smoked cannabis for therapeutic reasons, the Working Party has recommended a regime for limited compassionate provision of cannabis to patients who may benefit from its use. This is an interim measure until medical cannabinoids become available. It would allow limited medical exemptions to criminal prosecution to patients who have been certified as suffering from a restricted set of medical conditions by an approved medical practitioner who has also counselled them about the risks of smoking cannabis.

That advice is consistent with the scheme as it is managed in Canada, for example. While the onus is on doctors to verify that the applicant has an identified condition or disease and that other treatments are not providing relief from pain or discomfort, the doctor is not required to prescribe the drug. The responsibility for taking on the risk, managing the administration of the drug and indeed controlling its effect, and carrying the responsibility for any adverse health consequences, remains with the applicant. That seems only reasonable.

A similar approach was advocated by the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform in its policy paper released last year, which recommended "that Australians with chronic and terminal illnesses be allowed to access cannabis as a form of pain relief in consultation with their family doctor". This group includes parliamentarians and ex-parliamentarians from every state and territory. It was formed in 1993. Michael Moore, here in the ACT, was one of the founding members; ex Chief Minister, now Liberal senator, Gary Humphries is a member and I am one of the two national spokespersons for the group. Other present MLAs who are members of the group are Jon Stanhope, Brendan Smyth, Simon Corbell, Katy Gallagher, Karin MacDonald and Ros Dundas. On that basis, all other things being equal, I would hope that this Assembly would be disposed to support the bill.

Members might be aware that I tabled an exposure draft to this bill earlier in the year. The model, in that instance, was not prescriptive as to the diseases or conditions that warranted medical use of cannabis but required a doctor to prescribe it. Community and medical response to the exposure draft was not strong, but the clear message that came from it was that the medical profession in most instances would be loath to prescribe


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