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Patients call for medical marijuana legalisation to be brought forward -

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SABRA LANE, PRESENTER: Medical marijuana is illegal in Australia, yet supply networks are popping up around the nation along with calls from patients to legalise it.

In one particularly remarkable case, a man who endured a world-first operation to remove a tumour the size of a football has won the support of his neurosurgeon and oncologist to use marijuana to treat his pain.

Queensland and Victoria have now joined a New South Wales trial on medical cannabis which will run next year, but patients want the legal risk removed now.

Conor Duffy reports.

CONOR DUFFY, REPORTER: It's breakfast time in Wollongong and Paul Lawrence is making his daily smoothy. There's the usual ingredients as well as a surprise finish: a garnish of freshly-chopped marijuana.

In 2010, Paul's life changed forever when he sought treatment for back pain. He thought he'd hurt his back working as an industrial roofer.

PAUL LAWRENCE: After the MRI, I was found to have a tumour the size of a football growing on my spine, and to be honest, as bizarre as it may sound, I was just as surprised as anyone. I thought I was a roofer with a bad back.

CONOR DUFFY: Paul Lawrence had a rare spinal tumour called a chordoma. It was so massive, it was compressing his spinal cord and pushing through to his stomach.

PAUL LAWRENCE: The initial diagnosis was, "Really sorry, but you've got about two months and it's gonna be slow, horrible, painful death. You're gonna lose use of your limbs, your lower legs in the next week or two. Then you'll lose bowel, bladder."

RALPH MOBBS, NEUROSURGEON, PRINCE OF WALES HOSPITAL, SYDNEY: When we first met, he was terrible, he could barely walk, significant weight loss, he looked emaciated. But the primary issue as far as he was concerned is that he was in horrible, agonising pain. This guy was on industrial doses of all sorts of happy pills, and for him, life was basically coming to an end.

CONOR DUFFY: After two bouts of surgery taking about 45 hours, Paul Lawrence was transformed.

Most of his tumour was gone, but so were three vertebrae linking his upper and lower spine. Five ribs and a leg bone were removed and recycled to replace them.

RALPH MOBBS: We harvested pretty much everything that we could find. We harvested muscle vessels, bones, pretty much from his shoulders, his chest, his legs, to plug into the void that was left with the tumour.

COLIN CHEN, ONCOLOGIST, PRINCE OF WALES HOSPITAL, SYDNEY: He is amazing. I mean, he travelled daily obviously from Wollongong. Some day he came with his partner, but some day he came by himself on the train. Never complained. He had a huge pain threshold.

CONOR DUFFY: Today Paul Lawrence has a quality of life that astounds his doctors, but it comes with constant pain.

PAUL LAWRENCE: That's why I'm always going to be in pain because people think my back's sore all the time. My back isn't sore all the time. I can permanently feel all the structures in me. It's uncomfortable, but it's not the agonising part. Where my bones are missing, that hurts like hell.

CONOR DUFFY: Paul Lawrence is a lifelong pot smoker. He now relies on hash oil and smoking to relieve his pain and says giving up the cocktail of painkillers and sleeping pills he was prescribed has transformed his life.

PAUL LAWRENCE: After about a month of not taking the medications, it was like a fog started to clear. And I just looked back at what I'd not been doing for the last four years and thought, "This is ridiculous."

CONOR DUFFY: Despite scientific uncertainty, many others with chronic pain believe marijuana is more effective than opioids.

PAUL LAWRENCE: Since I've given up pain meds, I ride a push bike, I get in the water and try and swim.

CONOR DUFFY: Paul has the backing of both his doctors, who caution it is only for a limited group of patients and can have serious side effects like lung disease and mental health impacts.

RALPH MOBBS: In terms of what options does this guy now have, well, we don't have much to offer him. However, with his ongoing symptoms, if he gets benefit out of pursuing alternative medicines, whether that benefit is real or perceived, if he is getting benefit, then he has my full support to pursue them.

COLIN CHEN: I'd like to have - to be open-minded about this. You know, I think certainly I can see it seems to work really well for Paul. I think on a large scale, the best thing to do in this situation is to have a clinical trial.

CONOR DUFFY: Dr Nial Wheate is a pharmacy expert from Sydney University who says medical marijuana can treat pain and other conditions.

NIAL WHEATE, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: It's definitely a potential alternative. There have been several studies in the US already that have shown in states that have legalised cannabis that overdose deaths from opioids have actually dropped significantly up to 30 per cent.

CONOR DUFFY: However, he wants people to wait for a trial before using marijuana themselves.

NIAL WHEATE: The side effects can be quite disastrous. There's a lot of studies that have shown long-term side effects from cannabis use - psychosis, anxiety, depression, an impairment of both cognitive function and judgment.

CONOR DUFFY: But users like Paul Lawrence who believe medical marijuana works want it legalised to cut out the risk of prosecution that deters others.

His own prognosis is uncertain, but the push for medical marijuana is keeping Paul Lawrence motivated.

PAUL LAWRENCE: I could dwell on a lot of things that have changed in my life that are bad or I could choose to think about all the things I still have that are wonderful. And, you know, you wake up every morning and you can say you're good and you can say you're bad. I say I'm wonderful.

SABRA LANE: Conor Duffy reporting.