ACT News

ACT Government raises health and law concerns about Shane Rattenbury's medical marijuana plan

The ACT government has raised serious concerns about a medical marijuana scheme proposed by Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury, saying public health could suffer if it is established and questioning the extent of clinical need and demand for cannabis treatment in Canberra.

A Legislative Assembly inquiry will open public hearings into the scheme on Friday, a day after 32 submissions from members of the public and health, justice and drug organisations were released. 

Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury.
Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Health Minister Simon Corbell used the government's official submission to the inquiry to raise the health and legal concerns, including citing a lack of "high quality evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis use" for terminally and chronically ill people. 

Mr Corbell said unsatisfactory risk to doctors and clinicians had been raised in government legal advice, suggesting anyone who provided patients with a medical declaration giving permission to use medical cannabis could be liable for any "adverse events" that take place as a result. 

ACT Health Minister Simon Corbell.
ACT Health Minister Simon Corbell. Photo: Rohan Thomson

He said additional police resources would be required around the ACT if home owners and residents were permitted to grow or cultivate cannabis plants, forecasting a surge in reports to police, Neighbourhood Watch and Crime Stoppers over marijuana plant sightings around the ACT.  

The submission also warns of the potential of criminal influences on the local "production, supply, transportation and administration of cannabis" through the proposed scheme.

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Police could also face increased instances of people suffering from the affects of cannabis presenting a risk to public safety. 

As predicted, concerns have also been raised about the role of the ACT Chief Health Officer in the proposed scheme, which was outlined in an exposure draft released by Mr Rattenbury in 2014. The government's submission calls for a specific form of approval to be included in legislation and for participants in the scheme to be required to present photo identification such as a drivers' licence. 

Considering supply of cannabis, the ACT government supports the approach used in the Netherlands where medicinal cannabis is available on prescription and dispensed through pharmacies.

There several different varieties of cannabis products are available for medical use, grown under supervision and  with specified content of active ingredients.

"A published review of this scheme indicated that a higher proportion of prescriptions were written for cancer or non-chronic pain indications and the age of users was higher, which is more likely to be indicative of use in serious medical conditions," the submission said.

"The overall use of prescription cannabis was lower in the Netherlands than when compared to the [schemes operating in the United States]."

Already the Public Health Association and Families and Friends of Drug Law Reform have backed the compassionate and safe use of medicinal marijuana in the ACT.

Its use is common in Europe countries, around North America as well as New Zealand and Britain.  

On Friday the inquiry will hear evidence from three private citizens and Australian National University student Nicholas Christodoulou.

Mr Christodoulou completed a paper on domestic and international barriers to the ACT scheme for the university's Law Reform and Social Justice program.  

He recommends the cultivation of cannabis take place within the territory to circumvent Commonwealth importation restrictions and says crude cannabis should be provided to patients and be administered using vaporisers.  

Karen Downing is expected to use her evidence on Friday to ask the committee to support the scheme's introduction, after using a submission to outline the suffering of her son who was diagnosed with cancer at 10 years old. 

Dr Downing said her family witnessed "the horrors of chemotherapy" and that something must be done to ease the suffering of patients. 

The committee will present its report by the end of June.