Australia does not need any more trials into medicinal marijuana and there is a risk more research would slow the country down five or 10 years, according to a drug law reform advocate.
With a Legislative Assembly committee due to consider proposed laws to legalise marijuana for medical purposes in the ACT, experts in Canberra will host a public forum on the issue on Tuesday.
In July, ACT Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury introduced a bill into the Legislative Assembly that would allow terminally and chronically ill people in Canberra to grow marijuana and use the drug to alleviate pain and symptoms, if they had approval from the ACT Chief Health Officer. The bill will be considered by an Assembly committee, due to report by June next year.
Tuesday's forum will feature a number of experts discussing evidence about the effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabis, its history and various supply and regulatory options.
The president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, is one of the panellists and said the community was now generally in favour of medicinal cannabis.
Research indicates 69 per cent of the public support legalising cannabis for medical purposes while 74 per cent support a clinical trial.
"The questions now are how and when, rather than whether," Dr Wodak said.
"The three big questions are how is it going to be supplied, what sorts of regulatory approval will there be and how should people take medicinal cannabis."
Dr Wodak said he believed Australia did not need more clinical trials to decide whether the country should proceed with medicinal cannabis.
"In order to allow any medicine, you want to know that it's effective and safe and we know from current research, where there's over 100 randomised control trials, we've got plenty of evidence that medicinal cannabis is effective and is safe," he said.
"There still are some unanswered questions but we don't need more research just to decide whether or not we want to do it. Frankly the risk of proceeding with more research is that it might just slow us down another five or 10 years and there are a lot of people who feel they won't be around in five or 10 years and I can't blame them for wanting it now."
Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT executive officer Carrie Fowlie said some Canberrans were already self-medicating for various health conditions, and some were doing it with the support of their doctors, even though such behaviour was illegal.
She said all forms of cannabis were currently prohibited in the ACT and Australia, despite evidence indicating medicinal cannabis could be beneficial for health conditions such as HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
"I think the issue is that we need a compassionate regime whereby seriously and terminally ill individuals who have been appropriately authorised, may use and possess cannabis without penalty and I think there's a lot of interest in looking at what could this compassionate regime look like and that's really one of the main purposes of the forum," Ms Fowlie said.
"We hope it's time for our jurisdictions to look seriously at how we might be able to take the next step forward and what's being done in the Legislative Assembly is a really positive step towards being able to do this."
The public forum will be held in Legislative Assembly reception room at 5.30pm on Tuesday.