Medical Cannabis

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:38:49): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes the release of the Victorian Law Reform Commission's landmark report recommending a controlled licensing scheme to produce medical cannabis and congratulates the Andrews government in Victoria for indicating they will take steps to legalise cannabis cultivation for medical use;

2. Recognises the significant body of research supporting the benefits of medical cannabis to treat serious medical conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and chronic pain;

3. Notes that more than a dozen countries, including Canada, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain and parts of the United States, already permit the use of medical cannabis;

4. Notes the cross-party work led by Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, via the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill, which could become operational as early as next year; and

5. Calls on the Weatherill government in South Australia to follow the lead of the premiers of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland by acting on medical cannabis reform to ensure that South Australians do not continue to suffer needlessly.

Today I move a motion which notes the release of the Victorian Law Reform Commission's landmark report recommending a controlled licensing system to produce medical cannabis. I congratulate the Andrews government in Victoria for indicating that they will take steps to legalise cannabis cultivation for medical use. I note that there, Daniel Andrews, the Labor Premier, has said in fact it was the proudest moment of his political career to date when he announced that report. I understand why he would say that because he is saving families in Victoria from the suffering that they are enduring.

The motion also goes on to recognise the body of research that exists supporting the benefit of medical cannabis, with particular relevance to conditions including cancer, MS, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and chronic pain. It notes that more than a dozen countries across the world, including Canada, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain and many others, as well as a large number of states in the United States of America, already permit the use of medical cannabis.

I also want to draw the council's attention to the work happening at a federal level, which is cross-party. It is not just bipartisan, not just tripartisan but indeed cross-party: National, Greens, Labor, Liberal, Independent and, I understand, Liberal Democrat as well. I draw the attention of the council to that work, because it will facilitate further action at a state level. Finally, I want to use this opportunity to urge the Weatherill Government to follow their Labor counterparts both in other states and at a federal level and end the suffering and stop creating medical refugees, which is an issue I raised in question time today.

The cross-party work that is happening at a federal level is most exciting. Many members of the council would be of course aware of the role of the TGA in regulating drugs in this country, particularly for medical use. That option is not an option for medical cannabis, due to a range of factors. The cross-party group is led by Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, who is a qualified GP and the Greens health spokesperson. He has worked with a range of other members of the federal parliament to introduce the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill, which can be law by next year.

That legislation at a federal level focuses on the licensing arrangements by creating a regulator for medicinal cannabis. It is needed to support state-based legislation and state-based action to legalise medical cannabis. It is heartwarming to see that the bill has the in principle support of current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, but I would note it also had the unofficial support of previous prime minister Tony Abbott who, in correspondence to radio announcer Alan Jones, stated that he thought, in fact, medical cannabis was already legal but certainly did not oppose it being legally available.

I note that there is a lot of hysteria about the idea of cannabis being used as a drug. Well, that is exactly what it is and, for medicines across the country, of course we see many drugs that are illegal in other forms used in a medical format, so in that way it is no different. In some ways, in terms of having a pharmaceutical backer to see it go over the various hurdles that we quite rightly have in place in this country, cannabis is not in the realm of having one of those companies or sponsors take it through our current processes, so the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill, should it become an act and should it become law, seeks to remedy that particular ailment that we face.

As Senator Richard Di Natale has said, there is no reason why Australia could not begin importing medical cannabis and making it available to patients next year, before moving to establish a local industry here. I note that there are indeed local industries here such as Tazcan, which have indicated that they would certainly be willing, able and ready to assist with that production.

The Andrews Government has taken the lead in this past week. They have become the first state in Australia to announce that they will legalise cannabis cultivation for medical use. It follows their report that they referred to the Victorian Law Reform Commission which has recommended a controlled licensing system to produce medical cannabis. That commission has also recommended licensing cultivators and manufacturers to produce the drug under laws similar to those governing that state's opium poppy industry.

Although Victoria is already participating in the New South Wales trial, specialist commissioner Ian Freckelton said that the commission formed the view that they should not wait for the trial to conclude in New South Wales before moving to legalise cannabis cultivation in Victoria. I quote the specialist commissioner's words:

"We were satisfied on the basis of those whom we met, many of whom had utilised medicinal cannabis to their advantage, and on the basis of research evidence, that it is an appropriate time for this modest step to be taken to alleviate suffering."

The medical cannabis that will be available in Victoria in the near future will be available in a variety of forms. Those forms include tinctures, oils, capsules, sprays and vaporisable liquid, but they do not include the smoking of any form of cannabis. In WA, I note that the health minister, Kim Hames, wants officials to examine options for that state to link in with the trials soon to begin and currently in train in New South Wales. Although clinical trials could be legally established in WA, he has certainly directed his officials to investigate that state's participation in those trials.

I note that the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has stated that she could not sit on her hands watching Queenslanders suffer, so she has similarly approved involvement in those New South Wales clinical trials, as did her counterpart, the previous Liberal Premier in Victoria (Denis Napthine) prior to the Andrews Government coming to power. We also have Lara Giddings, the leader of the Labor Party in Tasmania, urging the Liberal Premier to allow Tasmanians to take part in the trial and urging urgent action on this issue.

Labor leaders around the country, and Liberal leaders around the country, are acting on this issue. You might wonder why they are acting on something that might be seen as controversial. I think those premiers and those leaders who have spoken to sufferers in their states, almost without exception, have had a change of heart, have found the political courage to act on this issue and have found that the public will support them. When you see the suffering that some families are going through and when you look at the evidence that over a dozen countries around the world are already doing this, how could you but say that you will help, particularly children, but also those who are sick and suffering — and sick and suffering needlessly. It may not be the silver bullet, and I certainly do not believe that medical cannabis is a cure all; it is not necessarily even the first course of treatment, but it should be in the suite of treatments that we allow sufferers access to.

The Fulton family of Victor Harbor are currently spread across the globe. Bobby Fulton, the mother to two girls who suffer from a rare degenerative diffuse lung disease, has travelled to Canada, where in that country it is possible for them to access medicinal cannabis treatments. They have gone through the processes there and they have secured prescriptions through that country's legalised system, and now they are waiting to be allowed to return to South Australia, but to continue medicating their daughters. In the meantime, the father and the boys are still living in South Australia and the family is split up. The family pretty much sold up many of their possessions to get to Canada and to get this treatment, which they see as life saving for their children, and they are in a desperate situation.

In Canada, there have been TV programs and much media attention about this Australian family who has fled to Canada to seek this medical treatment — and the success story of the treatment. As I mentioned today, with the girls receiving the medical treatment for their conditions in Canada, there has been great success. They are currently living a much fuller, healthier and certainly less painful life in Canada, but there is the pain of not being able to return home. There is also the financial strain on this family of their having to have fled their home country because their home country and their home state was doing nothing to help them alleviate their suffering.

As I noted today in question time, for example, Tabatha had a lump on her neck, weight gain and depression, and she had been on an oxygen tank, and within weeks of being able to access medicinal cannabis, those symptoms were alleviated and she was able to live a much better life.

In New South Wales, one of the first premiers to act was Mike Baird and, again, I commend him for that. He is obviously a Liberal Premier. So, as I have said, this is a cross-party affair. Mike Baird, particularly because of his contact with the Haslam family, who many people would be aware of through the various television programs which focused on the now late Daniel Haslam, who was suffering from his cancer and being unable to eat.

His dad, a police officer, and his mum, a nurse, lived in Tamworth, a rural community in New South Wales. These are very conservative, rural people. They have become medical cannabis advocates and warriors. Indeed, Lucy Haslam is taking the fight right up to government. That family is the family who met with Mike Baird and changed his opinion on this issue.

That family was put into such dire straits that the father, who had worked as a police officer, was illegally securing cannabis in order that his son might not live wracked with pain and might be able to consume some food and keep it down. These are the dire straits that we are putting Australians in in this country, and these are the very sufferers who other premiers and other Labor leaders have taken leadership on.

Premier Mike Baird has enabled medical trials to commence in New South Wales. There will be three phases of those trials, the first looking at children with epilepsy. I note that, when the trials were first announced, there was some thought that, in fact, they would be open only to adults and dealing only with conditions such as cancer. But very quickly he realised that those families who have children suffering from uncontrollable seizures, seizures which dozens of medications had failed to control, needed to be included in these trials. I commend these trials. I note that Victoria and Queensland are enabling their residents to take part in these trials, yet South Australians continue to sit by the sidelines. As Mike Baird said at the time he announced those trials:

"Why are these people who are in the fight of their lives, why are they undertaking pharmacy in their backyards? Why don't we get the best minds in the country to see whether they can solve this, and let those with terminal illness spend time with themselves and spend time with their family?"

I think that Premier Mike Baird has his priorities right, but in this state all we hear on medical cannabis is crickets from this Government. We have seen inaction, we have seen sitting by the sidelines, we have seen rhetoric and words saying, 'Yes, of course, we support these New South Wales clinical trials as an observer state,' but there has been no money put up, there has been no work done to enable South Australians to participate in the trials.

Certainly, there has been no referral — as the Victorian Government has done in their short time in office — to law reform commissions or reviews. There has been no investigation of how we could adapt our current laws to enable the provision of a medicine to those who are sick and suffering in our state.

What we have, as I say, are medical refugees like the Fulton family. What we have are girls like Charlotte, whose father, Mark Elliott, has watched her suffer through dozens of seizures a week. He would dearly love to be able to attempt to medicate Charlotte and to see if medical cannabis might indeed work where the dozens of other medications have failed. He does not want to break the law, so he will not do that, and so what he has to do is watch his daughter suffer through up to 40 seizures a week.

Yet, across the world, some patients have responded to this treatment. Of course, not all medications work with all patients and you need to do things in a clinical environment and through a regulated system. The regulator of medical cannabis that the cross-party federal parliamentarians are proposing provides the framework, but what we are still lacking in this state is the political will of the Premier.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.T. Ngo.

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