August 6, 2014
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 16:27 :26 ): I move:
That this council notes–
1.The advances in technology and the growing support for medical cannabis in the Australian community;
2.The range of applications for medical cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering and improve quality of life; and
3.That a round table of medical and legal professionals and people with lived experience who could benefit from medical cannabis will be convened by the Hon. Tammy Franks MLC and is open to all members across the political spectrum to attend.
An honourable member interjecting:
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I will refrain from responding to the interjections. The medical use of cannabis (also commonly referred to as medical marijuana) is legal in a number of countries across the world, including Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, as well as in an ever-increasing number of states across the United States of America.
I move this motion today because it is time that South Australian parliamentarians came to the table and started having serious discussions about the possibilities for medical cannabis to be legally and literally available in this state. I note at this point the position statement that I think is quite pertinent of the Cancer Council of New South Wales. It states:
Cancer Council NSW acknowledges that cannabis may be of medical benefit to cancer patients where conventional treatments are unsuccessful in the following circumstances: in relieving nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy; as an adjunctive analgesic in patients with moderate to severe pain; and/or as an appetite stimulant for cancer patients experiencing weight loss and muscle wasting.
They go on to point out that smoking is a particularly harmful route of cannabis or marijuana administration, largely because carcinogenic substances are inhaled into the lungs through that format. They also note that synthetic cannabis products, particularly nabiximols delivered via an oral spray, offer advantages in providing symptom relief without unwanted psychological or THC related effects, as well as being a preferable route of administration for anti-emetic therapy.
Natural and synthetic forms of cannabis are currently illegal in Australia, the position statement goes on say, but Cancer Council New South Wales supports limited exemptions from criminal prosecution such as those provided by the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme for cancer patients who have been certified by an approved medical practitioner as having particular conditions and who have been counselled by a practitioner about the risks of smoking cannabis.
Cancer Council New South Wales supports the current clinical trial of the synthetic cannabis product via oral spray for relieving uncontrolled persistent pain in patients with advanced cancer, part of which is being conducted in Australia.
Cannabis is not a single drug that induces one single effect; rather it consists of over 400 chemical substances. Over 60 of these are cannabinoid which when ingested activate the cannabinoid receptors in the body. The successful medicinal use of cannabis has been documented in many published studies. Medical cannabis can be used to treat a range of issues including, of course, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, appetite loss and chronic pain, but I also draw members' attention to a study that was conducted in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine run by the United States' National Academy of Sciences which provided a comprehensive assessment of the potential health benefits of cannabis and its constituent cannabinoids. That study concluded that nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety can all be mitigated by cannabis products.
In 2006, a study run by the University of Montreal found that cannabinoids can serve as antispasmodics to suppress muscle spasms and relieve pain. Medical cannabis has been used to treat multiple sclerosis, giving subjective relief of spasticity. A 2013 University of Colorado study found that medical cannabis is effective in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Comparative studies have found cannabinoids to be more effective than some conventional antinausea drugs.
Studies show that cannabinoids produce anti-emetic effects that reduce nausea and vomiting experienced by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, as I said. While these studies do not recommend cannabinoids are used as the first-line treatment for these conditions, cannabinoids might be of use for patients where they have either failed to respond or cannot tolerate the side effects of standard treatments. Where current options are failing, we should be looking further.
Cannabis is also effective in treating chronic pain, including pain caused by neuropathy, fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis. The evidence suggests that, when used in conjunction, cannabinoids and opioids could potentially produce a total analgesic effect that is greater than the sum of the individual drug effects.
There are many South Australians who will keenly watch this debate, one of whom wrote to me quite recently, stating:
I am so happy that we now have someone in South Australia that is willing to look into the therapeutic properties of medical cannabis. I thank you for standing up to help the people; the many who are suffering. I myself am restricted to a wheelchair now after nearly 15 years of chronic pain, fibromyalgia and multiple health conditions that cannot be helped by doctors or pharmaceutical drugs.
She goes on to say:
I have the whole of my life ahead of me with complete intolerances to all prescription medications, with no form of pain relief whatsoever. Am I not worthy of a better quality of life? I wish to be a contributing member of society, not a burden on a struggling health system. I would be perfectly able to self-medicate and therefore have a healthier life. There are many thousands just like me, you only need to look around on the relevant pages of the internet.
I would suggest to members interested in this debate to have a look at the responses on the internet today to my call for this round table, and to groups who have the particular health conditions that would benefit from medical cannabis. She goes on to say:
I do not currently use cannabis in any form, but I would like the human right to be able to access the natural plant for my own therapeutic relief. I have studied its uses in fresh raw juicing of leaves and the making of cannabis oils and tinctures, also vaporising, which are having great results for many people in my situation. To do this, I would need to be able to grow my own fresh plants exactly as I grow fresh herbs and vegetables in my garden.
Or indeed, I would say to her, she would need to be able to legally buy cannabis oil or tinctures, or cannabis spray.
I really hope that Australia can look to the future benefits of this wonderful plant to give many suffering patients the ability to help themselves in a most natural way that would not incur any further health side effects and problems and least of all to be a burden on our health system and reliant on pharmaceuticals.
Of course, members would be aware, if they follow current affairs programs, that the debate is not confined to South Australia alone. On an anecdotal note, medical cannabis is already illegally providing effective treatment for a number of Australians with a wide range of ailments. For those in this place and many in the community who have been following this issue through the current affairs programs, particularly the Sunday night programs on various stations, you will be familiar with the situation of the Victorian mother Cassie Batten, who has been using cannabis oil in a spray format to treat her three-old-son Cooper.
She has said to the media that she has turned to the oil because Cooper's seizures were occurring almost every minute, making him unable to walk, talk or see. She said that within 15 minutes of his first dose, Cooper began tracking objects for the first time in his young life. He laughed, he smiled and he could say mum and dad. These are simple things that all parents should be able to take for granted from their children.
Last month Ms Batten had her house raided by the police. She and her partner were released without charge, but still their lives hang in limbo. They could still face charges of possessing a drug of dependence and of introducing a drug of dependence into the body of another. For those who were watching the program update this Sunday night just gone, we have seen that they have had a new addition to their family. They were put in the most difficult of circumstances with the choice that they have to make for the young three-year-old Cooper in terms of his health or their liberty.
Last month also, a Victorian man, Marc Selan, narrowly avoided conviction for growing marijuana in his backyard to treat his ulcerative colitis, a debilitating disease that causes inflammation in the large intestine. Mr Selan is unable to use traditional medications due to their side effects. Mr Selan's doctor unsuccessfully applied under the Therapeutic Goods Administration for an exemption to use marijuana for medical purposes. Mr Selan now plans to emigrate later this year to Spain.
Again recently, Abby, a 2½-year-old girl from Sydney, suffers serious seizures and developmental delays as a result of her disorder CDKL5. CDKL5 leads to seizures, low muscle tone and audio and visual impairment. There is no cure for this condition. Abby's doctor, Dr Michael Freelander, who has treated Abby since she was born, said Abby was not expected to live longer than a few months, but the treatment has seen her improve enough to go home from hospital, and that is the treatment of medical marijuana.
Abby's so-called supplier has been raided by federal police after he wrote to the ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher. That chief minister, of course, indicated that she had no option but to report that to child protection authorities. Abby's mother, Cherie, says the raid has left the family without a continuing supply of the oil, creating a situation of life or death for her daughter within weeks.
I ask: where does child abuse in this case truly lie? I know that I am not alone in a view that the child abuse lies with the denial of the medication that the child needs. I also know that the general public gets this issue. A recent ReachTEL poll shows that almost two-thirds of Australians support the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. That survey polled more than 3,000 Australians. Members might be surprised to learn that the support is highest in those aged between 51 and 65. They should also be interested to learn that nearly 70 per cent of Labor voters and over 55 per cent of Coalition voters support the legalisation of medicinal cannabis.
The president of the Victorian branch of the AMA, Dr Tony Bartone, has recently stated that there is growing evidence for medicinal cannabis and that it is an effective treatment for a range of symptoms. He has indicated that those symptoms include controlling muscle spasticity, some types of chronic pain, some types of nausea and as an appetite stimulant in patients with weight loss due to cancer or HIV. Dr Bartone says that, if deemed safe and effective, medicinal cannabis should be made available to patients for whom existing medications are not effective.
In December 2013, the Medical Journal of Australia published a paper calling for legal reforms to permit the medical prescribing of cannabis for certain patients. The authors wrote:
A civilised and compassionate country that supports evidence-based medicine and policy should acknowledge that medicinal cannabis is acceptably effective and safe, and cost-effective.
Also, the recently re-established federal parliamentary group for drug policy and law reform and private members' bills to allow medicinal cannabis have now been announced in New South Wales and the ACT, with a parliamentary inquiry scheduled in Tasmania and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition in Western Australia declaring support.
In 2013, the New South Wales cross-party parliamentary committee recommended that the medical use of marihuana be legalised for people with cancer, AIDS or other terminal illnesses and urged the federal government to approve the use of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals. That report found that cannabis is considered as having low toxicity. It has a higher margin of safety (that is, the margin between the therapeutic dose and the toxic dose of a drug) than most other potent drugs. Its side effects are milder than most opioid analgesics or antidepressants.
The medical use of cannabis is legal in so many other countries and in a growing number of places across the world. I think that it is time that South Australians opened not only our minds to this debate but also our hearts to those families and to those who are suffering when they need not. I seek leave to table the final report of the New South Wales parliamentary committee on the use of cannabis for medical purposes and also the executive summary and recommendations of that report.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I table this material in order to inform members of this place more easily. I look forward to continued discussions on this matter. I know that this is a difficult issue, and it will cross state and federal jurisdictions in terms of the various measures that will be undertaken, which is why I think that a round table is a good start.
A committee of this parliament on this matter may be a way forward, and certainly I am open to that suggestion by members. But I would also point to the number of committees that have taken place around Australia and say that our starting point should be to ensure that we do not seek to reinvent the wheel on this issue and that we move forward in the most expedient way possible to serve the people of South Australia. I commend the motion to the council.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. A.L. McLachlan.