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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9252


Dr STONE (Murray) (21:24): Imagine that your son or daughter, or your brother or sister, is dying from an incurable terminal cancer and the only treatment offering pain relief and nausea control is medicinal cannabis. This fortunately is not a common situation but that does not mean that we should not look carefully at whether we should continue to refuse access to medicinal cannabis in such circumstances. I believe we should allow it to be medically prescribed by specialists and regulated so that those few who need it can be given relief. Some other advanced countries—for example, Israel, Canada, 20 states in the USA and much of northern Europe—have long ago accepted the scientific evidence that medicinal cannabis has properties that make it a valuable last-resort drug that gives some cancer sufferers relief from chronic pain and nausea where nothing else works. It can also be of assistance with some symptoms of multiple sclerosis and it can reduce the number and severity of fits that can further disable a child with a particularly rare syndrome.

Medicinal cannabis does not give the same 'high' as illegal street marijuana—which can, of course, seriously damage a user's mental health with long term or even shorter term heavy use. I am not a subscriber to any further decriminalisation of illicit drugs in Australian. Synthetic marijuana is also a dangerous newcomer on the drug market and has recently been the focus of federal regulation to reduce import access. Medicinal cannabis is nothing like these substances; it is in a very different category. It would never 'leak' onto the illegal drug market because it would always be much more expensive. It would only be made available on a medical specialist or expert panel prescription—like so many other pharmaceuticals. We can look to the regulation in Canada, where medicinal cannabis has been available for more than a decade, to see best practice.

I am a co-convener of a bipartisan group of parliamentarians who are trying to tackle the terrible harms from illicit drug use in Australia. This is a serious but separate problem. It is interesting that the drugs doing the most harm to humans through their abuse in Australia are, of course, the legal drugs alcohol and nicotine. Having said that, the use of illegal drugs should not cloud our perspective or our compassion for those who could be treated to help their condition or have their cancer pain and suffering relieved at the end of their life when all else has failed.

I have been contacted by a constituent who has described the cruel suffering of her brother who had cancer. She believes he could have had some relief if he had been able to access medicinal cannabis in the last 12 months of his life. He could not eat. His condition was compounded because, in addition to the terrible pains associated with the disease itself, he literally starved. This constituent said she does not want anyone to ever suffer like that again.

In another case, a constituent has spoken to me of her mental anguish as she watches her partner suffer in the final stages of a terrible cancer that does not allow him to eat either. Being told that medicinal cannabis could help she is, as you can imagine, in a terrible state. She does not know where to get this substance. She has never broken the law in her life. She has no idea who to approach, who sells illegal drugs. Of course, she is worried sick that the marijuana she might buy might not be the appropriate type for relieving her husband's symptoms and could be cut with some foreign substance which would make it a danger to use. She is also terrified that if she did find the illicit marijuana, the illegal substance, in her effort to give her husband some final relief in his suffering, if she was caught buying that illegal drug she could lose her job—and she is the only breadwinner. So here is the extraordinary situation of a woman who has read all the literature, all the research, from 90 countries. This is highly scientific and respected research, particularly from Germany. She knows that medicinal cannabis could help her husband. She would at least like to try it but, in Australia, she cannot.

The key pieces of Commonwealth legislation that are activated by proposals for the introduction of a scheme dealing with medicinal cannabis include the Criminal Code Act 1995, the Customs Act 1901, the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956, the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967, the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and the Crimes (Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act 1990. This list sounds daunting, it sounds almost impossible for us to start to chug through, but members of parliament in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria are saying, 'Enough is enough, it's time we joined other developed countries in looking at decriminalising medicinal cannabis and making it available.' I know there are many on both sides of the House who share my views. I thank the House.

The SPEAKER: It being 9.30 pm, the debate is interrupted.

House adjourned at 21:30