ACT News

Medical marijuana laws unlikely to win support

A Greens push for terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to be allowed to use marijuana as part of treatment and pain management appears unlikely to find support in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Greens minister Shane Rattenbury released new draft laws and a discussion paper for community feedback on Monday, allowing access to medical marijuana as part of a private members bill. 

Under the plan, the ACT Chief Health Officer would give approval for the use and possession of cannabis for those with a prognosis of death within a year, or those with chronic illness or debilitating conditions. 

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher wouldn't rule out supporting the bill but said that current advice from ACT Health backed the use of synthetic drugs. 

Without support from one of the major parties, Mr Rattenbury's bill will not pass the Assembly. 

"I think we’ll have a look at it," Ms Gallagher said.

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"I will take advice from all of the relevant agencies about what their view on the legislation is. Their advice back to me at this stage is that there are three different types of synthetic cannabinoids… which are available for clinicians to prescribe if they think that is what their patients require."

Some of the chemical components of marijuana can be isolated to produce pharmacologic effects for patients, including in the immune and central nervous systems.

Ms Gallagher said the proposal had come as part of a national campaign by supporters of medical marijuana and revealed she only learned of Mr Rattenbury's planned private members' bill on Sunday night. 

Law enforcement agencies and ACT Chief Health Officer would have their own views on the proposal, Ms Gallagher said. 

"I know that other countries across the world have looked at this and changed their positions in certain circumstances so it's not like it hasn’t happened in other places.

"For me, it will be working out what the right thing to do is for Canberra. There isn’t any other place in Australia that has taken this approach but I do note there are proposed legislative changes in the New South Wales Parliament at the moment."

Ms Gallagher, who lost both her parents to terminal illness, promised a compassionate response to the issue. 

Opposition leader and health spokesman Jeremy Hanson called for an evidence-based debate around the use of medical marijuana. 

He wouldn't rule out supporting the bill. 

"This is something we will look at but at this stage, based on the advice that I have received, there are better and more effective alternatives than marijuana to the issues at hand," he said. 

"Certainly we are very sympathetic to people who have chronic illness, who are in pain and that’s the issue that we need to address but it is just a matter of whether marijuana is the best way to address that." 

Mr Hanson said the potential psychiatric effects of marijuana and other legal issues had to be considered.

"Is marijuana the best way to go? I am not convinced at this stage that it is.

"I know that it is emotive, I know that people have their views… but we need to consider this on the medical evidence and advice, and not just the law and order issues," Mr Hanson said. 

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