ACT News

Medical marijuana inquiry calls for public submissions on draft legislation

An ACT Legislative Assembly committee conducting an inquiry into the use of medical cannabis in the community has called for public submissions. 

The Standing Committee on Health, Ageing, Community and Social Services is considering draft medical cannabis legislation and a discussion paper released by Greens minister Shane Rattenbury in July.

Public hearings are planned for early 2015 and a report is due to be presented to the Assembly and considered by the ACT Government in June. 

Organisations and members of the public have until February 13 next year to make submissions to the inquiry, expected to be closely watched in Canberra as New South Wales leads a Commonwealth-backed national trial of medical cannabis. 

Chaired by Labor backbencher Chris Bourke, the committee also includes Labor's Yvette Berry and Liberals Andrew Wall and Nicole Lawder.

If passed by the wider Assembly, the bill would allow terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to grow cannabis and use the drug as part of their treatment.

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Under the proposal, sufferers of terminal and chronic illness would apply to the ACT Chief Health Officer for approval to possess and use cannabis as part of their pain relief.

Medical cannabis, including in an oil form, can be used to alleviate chronic pain and treat symptoms such as nausea. Patients undergoing chemotherapy, suffering seizures and with conditions including multiple sclerosis have reported relief from 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.

Under further proposed changes to the Drug of Dependence Act, the bill would also give the ACT's Chief Health Officer powers to grant a one-year licence to grow cannabis for the purposes of an approval.

Mr Rattenbury has said he would consider reworking the bill after concern it would place too much demand on the office of the Chief Health Officer.  

Individuals and organisations making submissions to the inquiry are asked to consider giving evidence at the planned Assembly hearings. 

The inquiry could also consider preliminary evidence from the New South Wales trial, set to be finalised by the end of the year. Chief Minister and Minister for Health Katy Gallagher announced the ACT would take part in October, after she called for nationally coordinated approach to the issue.

A vigorous online campaign continues to advocate for the use of medical cannabis in Australia.

Ms Gallagher and other Assembly members have been targeted in the campaign, including on social media and email.

Ms Gallagher drew criticism and online abuse from some campaigners when she revealed her decision to report the case of a 2½-year-old Sydney girl to authorities after letters to her office outlined the girl's treatment with prohibited cannabis oil.

Use of cannabis for medical treatment would require an application to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

A poll released in July found almost 66 per cent of Australians supported the legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes, with support highest amongst Green supporters, at 79.4 per cent. 

The national automated phone poll of 3400 people conducted by ReachTEL found a total of 69.9 per cent of Labor supporters and 56.6 per cent of Liberal and National Party supporters marijuana reform in Australia.

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