A Shorten Labor Government will ensure patients who are suffering from a terminal illness or other serious medical conditions will be allowed access to safe, reliable and legal medicinal cannabis if prescribed by their Doctor.
There are thousands of Australians who are suffering from unbearable pain, muscle spasticity from conditions like multiple sclerosis and nausea resulting from chemotherapy who may benefit from medicinal cannabis.
No one can imagine how horrific it must be for someone to see their child, partner or parent in immense pain, knowing relief is available but illegal.
If we can do something to help people suffering immense pain from debilitating and life threatening conditions – then why on earth wouldn’t we?
There are too many stories of people suffering – and this is unacceptable in a modern society.
With the governments of New South Wales and Victoria pushing ahead with state-based schemes and Queensland joining those states in taking part in clinical trials, it is no longer tenable for the Federal Government to bury its head in the sand.
Only the Commonwealth Government can ensure there is a national scheme which ensures equity of access and a safe and reliable supply and Labor will work with the states and territories to enact it.
Action at the national level is needed because a person’s access to a product that can relieve suffering should not be dictated by the vagaries of which state or territory they live in.
The fact remains that medicinal cannabis is still illegal to grow and illegal to buy and sell.
We recognise this decision will be controversial but Labor is driven by science and compassion – we firmly believe the time has come for a national scheme.
This is not about allowing free access to a drug for recreational use. It is about ensuring there is a legal and regulated market so that family members and carers aren’t forced to rely on the black market to relieve the pain of their loved ones.
Further details of Labor’s Policy
- In government, Labor will work with state and territory governments to ensure nationally consistent laws which allow lawful access to medicinal cannabis for those who are terminally ill or have other clinically identified medical conditions and where medicinal cannabis may benefit.
- Consistent with treaty and other obligations the Commonwealth Government will become the national regulator of medicinal cannabis supplied to eligible patients and for research purposes.
- Labor will also work with state and territory and federal regulators to improve controlled access to medicinal grade cannabis for legitimate scientific and medical research work.
What this means in practice is that:
- The Commonwealth will play a leadership role in coordinating state and territory reform of criminal laws to exempt eligible people (i.e. those with a terminal illness) from prosecution for possession and use.
- As the supply regulator of medicinal cannabis for patients and research, the Commonwealth will establish rules for licencing one or more producers subject to Best Manufacturing Practice and Best Agricultural Practice to ensure safety, quality and security in the production and distribution process.
Background Information on Medicinal Cannabis
Cannabis has been used as an intoxicant and as a medicine for many centuries. Tincture of Cannabis was included on the British Pharmacopoeia until 1973. The resin of the plant Cannabis Sativa contains the active cannabinoids with the two most abundant being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol. Cannabinoids are also produced naturally within the human body. There are pharmaceutical cannabinoids available:
- Donabinol (sold as Marinol) in the US.
- Nabilone (sold as Cesamet) in the US and UK.
- Nabiximols (sold as Sativex) on the Australian Registrar of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) in Australia.
Only one of these, Sativex, is currently listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. It is very expensive and only prescribable for a limited use.
The medical literature identifies four broad areas where cannabinoids may be used for treatment:
- Treatment of muscle spasticity and neuropathic pain notably in multiple sclerosis.
- Treatment of nausea, vomiting in chemotherapy patients and appetite stimulation particularly for AIDS patients.
- Pain relief / Palliation.
The AMA expressed cautious support for further trials and in a statement on1 May 2014 said:
“There is a growing body of evidence that certain cannabinoids are effective in the treatment of chronic pain, particularly as an alternative or adjunct to the use of opiates, when the development of opiate tolerance and withdrawal can be avoided.
Controlled trials have also shown positive effects of cannabis preparations on bladder dysfunction in multiple sclerosis, tics in Tourette syndrome, and involuntary movements associated with Parkinson’s disease.”
Legal Issues – Criminal Law
The use, possession, supply and trafficking of cannabis is prohibited in all states and territories, proscribed by the state Crimes Acts/codes and Poisons Acts.
Commonwealth Laws include the Criminal Code Act 1995, Narcotic Drugs Act 1967, Crimes (Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act 1990 and the Customs Act 1901.
Relevantly section 313.1 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act provides a defence under Commonwealth law if the possession, use, etc. is “is justified or excused by or under a law of that State or Territory.”
This defence was crafted to account for the diversion schemes that exist in many jurisdictions (many of which operate administratively rather than by statute).
The position of cannabis as a therapeutic good under existing law is that if cannabis or cannabis products are to be marketed, sold or proscribed for a medical purpose they have to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for listing on the ARTG. It is unlikely that horticultural products could be listed on the ARTG.
A Non-Pharmaceutical Pathway?
State governments have explored a non-pharmaceutical pathway for the provision of cannabis by creating a defence to criminal prosecution for certain people who possessed/used cannabis for a medical reason.
Another option is to simply choose not to prosecute these people, this is the model that the NSW Government has chosen.