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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 13 Hansard (Thursday, 19 November 2015) . . Page.. 4268 ..

Medicinal Purposes) Amendment Bill, there are other options available to us for capacity building which could assist people in accessing medicinal cannabis in the ACT. The government will work to explore these options in relation to this important issue. I would like to thank the standing committee for their report, and I commend the response to the Assembly.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (3.48): I will take this opportunity to make some remarks on this issue of medicinal cannabis in light of both the committee’s report and the government response tabled by the Minister for Health. Although there is nothing wrong with the government’s response itself, I must be clear that it was not a response I was able to endorse when it came before cabinet. This is because it is not a response that will see anything really change in the ACT; it will not see sick or terminally ill people allowed access to medicinal cannabis any time soon. Members would know that my approach to this issue would be different, and I believe we can take a much stronger, more decisive and timelier pathway than is being canvassed.

This discussion stems from the legislation that I released in July 2014, almost 18 months ago. That legislation would have allowed for the first time sick and dying people in the ACT to legally access medicinal cannabis as a treatment for their illness. I have already said this many times before: people who are ill and dying or enduring chronic pain or debilitating symptoms should be able to access appropriate treatments to help alleviate their symptoms. Cannabis can be one of those appropriate treatments. Its use as a medical treatment is supported by strong medical evidence. This is backed up—as we have no doubt all seen—by considerable anecdotal evidence. This has been reinforced repeatedly by the numerous committee inquiries held recently, such as the one here in the Assembly and also the federal Senate inquiry.

I note that the response talks about waiting for a federal government response rather than taking action at the ACT level. I do not believe that this is an adequate response. If we acknowledge that this is a real issue that is not being dealt with and that we should take a compassionate approach to people who are sick and dying, including people in the ACT, then we should act. We should not hope that someone else will come and fix the problem, especially when the indications are that the federal government’s historical inaction may well continue. We in the Assembly have a responsibility to respond for Canberrans who need this change.

The government response to this issue so far, as outlined in the committee report, has been minimalist. It has agreed to recommendations in the report which basically entail writing to the commonwealth about several issues. Nothing is inherently wrong with these actions; it is just they are not really making any progress on the issue in the time frame that we should be. I do believe everyone in this Assembly understands the need to change the laws around medicinal cannabis, and I believe members here do feel sympathy and empathy for people who cannot get access to this treatment. We need to act on those beliefs. We should not be hamstrung because regulating is a challenge. That is not an excuse. Look how nimble and responsive we were able to be in the ride sharing space, for example. Here in the ACT, despite being a small jurisdiction, we can respond to regulatory challenges quickly and effectively when we need to.

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