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Medical marijuana reforms to be considered by Legislative Assembly committee

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A Legislative Assembly committee will consider proposed laws allowing terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to grow marijuana and use the drug to alleviate their pain and symptoms.

The Greens-led push to legalise medical cannabis would see patients apply to the ACT Chief Health Officer for approval to possess and use cannabis as part of pain relief.

An exposure draft of the legislation and discussion paper put forward by minister Shane Rattenbury on the issue will go before the Assembly's standing committee on health, ageing, community and social services for a report to be tabled by June 2015. 

The move is expected to see individuals, advocates and experts give evidence on the controversial proposal before members of the Assembly vote next year.

Under the plan, applicants would fall into three categories, including those with a terminal illness and prognosis of death within a year, chronic or debilitating conditions, or serious illness from cancer, AIDS or HIV, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or epilepsy.

Liberal Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said his party was very unlikely to support the bill in its current form. 


Mr Rattenbury said he had received significant feedback from the community in support of a change to the law.

He welcomed the issue being referred to the committee, but said he hoped it would complete its work ahead of the 10-month deadline.

"The NSW Parliament has recently undertaken a similar inquiry, which received many public submissions and witnesses," Mr Rattenbury said. "It supported making medical cannabis available in certain circumstances to ill people.

"I am hopeful that the move to committee will not delay the implementation of this legislation for too long. Given the work already done in NSW, I would hope that our committee can report back much sooner than the 10-month timeframe allocated."

Mr Rattenbury said popular support for changes to the law existed across the community and from people on all sides of politics. 

A recent poll found almost 66 per cent of Australians support the legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes.

"These are everyday people who are suffering from illnesses for which cannabis can help relieve symptoms, and they need help now," Mr Rattenbury said. 

"I believe it is possible for this Assembly to endorse a scheme for the provision of medical cannabis to those who are sick or dying, with the supervision and support of medical practitioners." 

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, who also serves as health minister, has expressed reservations about aspects of the plan, including the burden it would place on the office of the ACT Chief Health Officer. 

Ms Gallagher said in July she would consider the proposal. 

Mr Hanson told the Assembly on Thursday his party was not forewarned about the bill being referred to the committee. 

"We are very open to having a discussion on this issue," he said.

"It is a complex issue and I think what we would all agree on is that we want to come up with good solutions to make sure that those who are terminally ill, people suffering from chronic pain have access to the best and most appropriate medical treatment." 

Mr Hanson said any change to ACT laws should coincide with changes to federal and NSW laws.