ACT News

Medical marijuana advocates see only delays in clinical trials

Moves by the ACT to join a Commonwealth-backed national clinical trial of medical cannabis being led by the NSW government have not satisfied calls from advocates of drug reform. 

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher confirmed the territory's involvement in the trial on Tuesday, during an official visit to China.

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The announcement prompted calls for more information from Greens minister Shane Rattenbury, federal MPs and Sydney University emeritus professor of anaesthesia Laurence Mather. 

Ms Gallagher welcomed a national approach to consideration of cannabis after discussions with NSW Premier Mike Baird at the Council of Australian Governments meeting.

"The NSW Premier and I discussed the clinical trial at Friday's COAG meeting and agreed the ACT would be a part of this important research," she said. 

"I am pleased that today's announcement means we will now see all jurisdictions work together on a national approach to this complex issue."


After lobbying for involvement in the trial and for a nationally co-ordinated response to the issue, Ms Gallagher said the government was sympathetic to those suffering from terminal illness but concerns over sanctioned use of cannabis for pain relief meant a regulated clinical trial was still needed. 

Mr Rattenbury, who has introduced separate legislation to allow medical cannabis to be used in the ACT, called for details from Ms Gallagher and Mr Baird about the scope, timeline and intake of the trial. 

"There are more questions left unanswered here as a result of this announcement," he said. 

"I am concerned this could be a long process that will simply prevent people who are suffering now from being able to get legal access to cannabis." 

A spokesman for Ms Gallagher said details of the ACT's inclusion in the clinical trial were yet to be finalised.

"Health officials in both jurisdictions will work together to agree on a framework which considers matters like ACT patient involvement," he said. 

A NSW working group is expected to report by the end of the year. 

Professor Mather said scant information about the trial's purpose, design, timeframe and scope had been made available. 

He called for urgent clarification from the NSW and ACT governments. 

Professor Mather said overseas evidence supporting the use of cannabis for pain relief and other treatment had undergone rigorous peer review and inclusion in leading medical literature.

Describing the evidence as "robust", he said cannabis was found by most trial participants to work better than many traditional medications used for the same conditions.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman also offered support for clinical trials on Tuesday while Greens senator Richard Di Natale, who is co-ordinating a federal parliamentary group on drug policy and law reform, said trials fell short of the necessary changes.

"We should continue to trial the efficacy of medicinal cannabis for conditions where there is emerging anecdotal evidence but a trial shouldn't stop people from accessing it where we already have sufficient evidence," Dr Di Natale said. 

"There is already overwhelming international evidence that medicinal cannabis can provide relief from conditions like nausea, pain and muscle spasms. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy have been needlessly denied access to this kind of medical relief for far too long."

Dr Di Natale will introduce a bill in the next sitting fortnight that would establish an independent body to regulate supply, distribution and access to medical cannabis.

Mr Baird will officially open the first Australian Medical Cannabis Symposium in Tamworth next month. 

A nationwide poll released in July found almost 66 per cent of Australians support the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes.