ACT News

ACT Government should supply medical cannabis: Rattenbury

The ACT Government would supply medical cannabis to users under Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury's vision of how legalised marijuana use would work in the territory.

Mr Rattenbury wants to legalise cannabis for medical purposes in Canberra, allowing terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to grow marijuana and use the drug to alleviate their pain and symptoms.

Shane Rattenbury believes doctors should be involved in medical cannabis reform.
Shane Rattenbury believes doctors should be involved in medical cannabis reform. Photo: Karleen Minney

Mr Rattenbury, speaking at a public forum on Tuesday night about the potential legalisation of the drug in the ACT, said doctors should be involved in reform and said he wanted to ensure a transparent doctor-patient relationship without the burden of illegality.

He hoped the government would one day regulate the supply of prescribed amounts of cannabis. 

However, Mr Rattenbury said his exposure draft of the legislation - which will go before the Assembly's standing committee on health, ageing, community and social services - was an important and flexible first step and had a greater chance of being approved by his Assembly colleagues

His current proposal would permit approved patients or a nominated person to grow cannabis for their own personal use.


"My personal preference is ACT Health would be a supplier," he said.

"I'm not sure I can achieve this in the Assembly in the next few years."

His comments were in response to a number of residents who were concerned about how patients and carers, particularly the elderly or very ill, would source, cultivate and consume cannabis if it was permitted in the territory.

One resident was worried some suppliers might take advantage of more vulnerable buyers without a regulated regime.

But an expert panel discussing the issue agreed the focus should be on allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes as soon as possible before navigating longer-term considerations about supply and regulation.

The public forum was held as part of the the seventh annual ACT Alcohol and Tobacco and Other Drug Sector Conference. 

University of Sydney emeritus professor Laurence Mather was one of the drug law reform advocates discussing the safety, supply and regulation of medical marijuana at Tuesday's meeting at the Legislative Assembly. He also spoke about the issue at the conference on Wednesday.

He was convinced there was more than enough research to support the legalisation of medical cannabis, which could remarkably alleviate pain for some people. 

"We have a war on drugs mindset through a lot of Australia," he said.

"We need more research but we certainly have enough research to proceed with legislation."

Australian Drug Law Reform president Dr Alex Wodak agreed and said the main obstacle would be securing regulatory approval through the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which "doesn't have a strong track record of approving plants".

Dr Wodak, who also spoke at Wednesday's conference, said any system was "many years" away but early law reform was needed now. 

"We could and should be moving a lot faster," he said.

"We want to end up with a system that's accessible, available and affordable based on evidence and compassion, and meets the needs of buyers and suppliers...exempt of fear and persecution."

ANU population health expert David McDonald said the ACT needed to turn its attention to easier measures, such as a register of people authorised to grow, possess and consume cannabis for medical purposes, before tackling the wider supply chain.

He also proposed a legal 'medical use defense' for those supplying medical marijuana to people authorised to use it. 

Establishing a legal supply of 'pharmacy grade' medical cannabis similar to the government-run system in The Netherlands would be much more difficult, he said.

Meanwhile, a Canberra doctor questioned how GPs would manage the use of medical marijuana among patients with chronic pain. He believed GPs needed to help draft legislation or at least have input.