ON the first anniversary of Australian Medicinal marijuana legislation that was supposed to be the “missing link” for patients, I want to say that that could not be further from the truth.
In fact, though it pains me to say it, it is coming very close to being an outright lie.
Off the back of strong public support for patients like my son Dan, who sought relief from serious disease and symptoms with medicinal marijuana, the government rode the wave of popular opinion, made all the right sympathetic noises, and passed legislation to allow for the cultivation, manufacture, and research into marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
That sounds wonderful and I used to feel very proud that Dan’s courage to speak out made some ground for other patients. I thought it a beautiful tribute that the legislation passed on the first anniversary of his death.
With the clarity of hindsight, it is a very different view. I now recognise that the government’s decision to gazump the Regulator of Medicinal marijuana Bill was the first disaster.
This Bill which was predominantly the work of Senator Richard Di Natale with cross-party support from senators Ian Macdonald, David Leyonhjelm and Anne Urquhart had already passed through the Senate’s lawful and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in 2015.
The cross-party Bill recognised the many potential problems with subjecting marijuana to the model of the established Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA).
At the eleventh hour, when the Regulator Bill looked like it would be successful in achieving legislation the government threw caution and common sense to the wind and decided to play politics by introducing their own bill. The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill which took the view that they could put a square peg (marijuana) into a round hole (TGA) was tabled and passed instead.
This “Clayton’s victory” was quickly followed by breaking the major promise that allowed their Bill to pass so quickly. The government had agreed in a trade-off with Labor not requiring the legislation to go to committee, that they would appoint an expert advisory council to guide the writing of the regulations.
This never occurred so the regulations have been written without expert advice and now the problems foreseen in the crystal ball of the cross-party committee are becoming crystal clear. The flow-on effect from this first broken promise is enormous. We now have a bureaucratic nightmare which has done absolutely nothing for the patients which it was designed to assist and protect.
People often say to me you must be very pleased with how things have progressed, so let me honestly answer that right now: Patients are still criminals. This includes the terminally ill and children with intractable epilepsy.
Patients are still reliant on the black market and will be for a long while yet.
They are still taking medicine procured from illicit sources which is like playing the lottery — the medicine could be contaminated, each batch is likely to contain different cannabinoids, there is no certainty that there will be a next supply, there is no alternative.
The black market is thriving. In fact it cannot meet demand and that is compounded by police raids which seize the medicine of patients who are reliant on it. Police are being put in an untenable position. The legislation has been passed yet using marijuana for medicinal purposes remains a crime. No licences have been approved to begin to cultivate and manufacture.
Now I can immediately hear bureaucrats jumping up and down and saying there is a pathway for patients to lawfully access medicinal marijuana. I agree in theory and therefore it is only fair that I touch on that. The Special Access Scheme (SAS) provides that pathway, but it is a convoluted process.
To begin the process the very sick patient needs to find a doctor who is happy to prescribe marijuana and who has the time to firstly undertake the arduous time-consuming process to become an “authorised prescriber”.
Patients are still criminals. This includes the terminally ill and children with intractable epilepsy. Patients are still reliant on the black market and will be for a long while yet.
This involves applications to state and federal agencies. Once approved the doctor must then demonstrate the evidence for the patient’s illness. (A little difficult after decades of blanket prohibition).
It should also be noted that there are no doctors in Australia with expertise in cannabinoids. Most doctors are not even aware of the existence of the Endocannabinoid System.
The very sick patient then needs to find the product overseas, bearing in mind these products are not allowed to be advertised.
Once found the patient must negotiate a price and apply to the TGA to have it approved. They must also apply for federal and state permits to have it imported.
And the patient bears the full cost plus the doctor’s costs.
* Lucy Haslam is Founder of United In Compassion
Originally published as Grass grows under bill for medicinal marijuana