Recently a NSW Parliamentary Committee recommends that cannabis be legally allowed for terminally ill patients after it receives over 100 submissions from the public.
Q: What is the impact of this recommendation say from legal point of view?
A: From a legal point of view it needs to be decided whether medical use for cannabis if that’s going to be allowed will be part of a general decriminalisation of possession of cannabis or whether it’s going to be an exception to the current regime where possession is criminalised. From NSW Council for Civil Liberties point of view we’ve been advocating decriminalisation of possession of marijuana and cannabis product. The medical use of cannabis is just one aspect of what we see as a general change needed.
Q: So why is it important for these patients to at least have the option to use cannabis?
A: Well it’s important because where doctors recommend that a particular drug is appropriate for use and would have beneficial medical results. For the patients to be prevented from achieving the beneficial results because of prohibition of the drug is very unsatisfactory. It’s really about ensuring patients have access to the best possible treatments.
Q: What about the side effects of using cannabis? Have we explored this arena?
The side effect with cannabis in normal use is long term side effects – psychosis building up in some cases over a long period of time that’s associated with particular types of cannabis with high concentration of THC. With medical use of cannabis patients would generally not be long-term patients and so those sorts of side effects aren’t really material and also you would have the ability to control the THC level in the cannabis so it is medically suitable.
Q: Now other organisations have expressed their concerns especially in regards to unintended consequences of legalising cannabis.
If you continue down the path of criminalising possession of cannabis then you have to have a regulatory regime, which allows the medical distribution of cannabis for medical purposes. And have a control regime which distinguishes that cannabis from cannabis which are made illegal. We think that’s an undesirable path to go down but it’s a regulatory possibility. Decriminalisation, generally, of possession medical use becomes available as a really by-product of the general change in legal position. And all the production and distribution might still need to be regulated and that would give rise I think to less unintended consequences.
Q: Now other countries for example the Netherlands and Canada they have implemented programs to allow terminally ill patients to use cannabis. Is that the direction that Australia should be heading towards?
A: There is a range of international experience which can be drawn on and certainly policy makers here it’s proper for them to have regards to overseas experience.
Q: Do feel like Australia is lagging behind in this issue?
A: Well Australia is certainly not at the forefront of policy development in this area. This has been an issue which has been advocated by many people for a long period of time and there’s been pretty little interest and certainly no action in relation to it. This report by the NSW Parliamentary Committee is a welcome report. Hopefully it doesn’t just get lost and buried and it will lead to some sensible law reforms.
The Committee requires the Government to provide a response by November 15.
Reviewed by: Sharon Davis, Co-producer of The Search for Edna Lavilla