ACT News

Drug body criticises 'narrow-minded' debate on medical marijuana

The ACT's peak drug body has called on the government to legalise medical marijuana and criticised some practitioners for being too narrow-minded about reform.

The criticism comes after the ACT Government launched an inquiry into the use of medical cannabis called for public submissions with a report to be considered by the government in July.

The Standing Committee on Health, Ageing, Community and Social Services is also considering draft legislation that would allow terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to grow cannabis and use the drug as part of their treatment.

Carrie Fowlie, chief executive of the Alcohol Tobacco and other Drug Association, ACT, said public debate had been poor with "people talking past each other" and "failing to listen to the diverse perspectives that should be informing policy analysis".   

"ATODA is concerned that sections of the medical profession are taking too narrow an approach on this topic, failing to acknowledge what many see as the bottom line," she said.

"[That is], the fact that many people in our community have poor quality of life owing to debilitating illnesses that are not relieved by standard medical practice.


"We are seeing professionals and politicians dismissing out of hand the perspectives of people with backgrounds different from themselves."

Earlier this week, the Public Health Association criticised state and territory governments for being "out of step with the attitudes and behaviour of much of the general public and professional opinion" on the use of cannabis to treat some illness. 

In her submission, Ms Fowlie called on the ACT Government to allow Canberrans to use cannabis medicinally.

This would include "providing for the legal cultivation, possession, consumption and supply of the drug to be used for medicinal purposes by people experiencing debilitating health conditions that have been shown to respond positively to cannabis".

"ATODA is conscious, as we know you are, of the deep human suffering of many people with serious illness who are conflicted with regard to the use of cannabis," she said.

Despite welcoming the decision to consider the draft medical cannabis legislation, Ms Fowlie said the government could show more leadership on the issue.

"It is disappointing that despite significant expertise in Canberra, the ACT Government has devolved research activities to NSW," she said.

"ATODA can support the Standing Committee to engage with this expertise, such as the collaboration currently being established on this topic by Dr David Caldicott with the University of Canberra."

Ms Fowlie said many people suffering from conditions understood medical marijuana could be helpful but were reluctant to use it because it was still considered illegal.

"Others have taken the next step and do use it but would very much prefer to be able to access cannabis of known quality through legal sources," she said.

Under the current proposal, sufferers of terminal and chronic illness would apply to the ACT Chief Health Officer for approval to possess and use cannabis.

Applications would fall into three categories: an illness with prognosis of death within a year, a serious illness or condition such as cancer, AIDS or HIV, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or epilepsy, or a chronic or debilitating condition.

Public Health Association chief executive Michael Moore said much of the existing opposition to the medicinal use of cannabis in Australia was based in political and ideological views, and did not consider compassionate medical practice. 

"There are some medical professionals who think that every medicine should always go through [the Therapeutic Goods Administration testing] process," he said. 

"Of course this ignores the fact that alternative medicines are used by many, many people in Australia all the time." 

-  with Tom McIlroy