Doctors should manage a tightly regulated, compassionate regime for the use of medicinal cannabis in Australia, a leading public health organisation has told an ACT inquiry.
The Public Health Association has labelled state and territory governments, including the ACT, "out of step with the attitudes and behaviour of much of the general public and professional opinion" on the use of cannabis to treat some illness.
A position statement incorporated into the organisation's submission to the Legislative Assembly inquiry considering the use of cannabis for medical purposes says the fact the drug is already widely used illegally means a regulated system is unlikely to lead to more illicit drug taking in the community.
It calls for the ACT and New South Wales to offer terminally ill people access to cannabis "where their doctors and the state or territory health department agree that cannabis may provide palliation benefits to the patient".
Public Health Association chief executive Michael Moore said much of the existing opposition to the medicinal use of cannabis in Australia was based in political and ideological views, and did not consider compassionate medical practice.
"I don't think the ACT is in isolation at all. Victoria has already announced that it is going to be legislating for allowing medicinal cannabis under some certain circumstances and other jurisdictions are looking at it as well."
"A whole series of jurisdictions are looking at this at the same time," Mr Moore said.
The position statement said many Australians self-medicate with cannabis, or medicate family members, including some with "tacit or over support of their doctors". These people are breaking the law by possessing, cultivating, supplying and even importing cannabis.
It notes widespread government regulation allowing for medicinal cannabis in Europe and North America as well as New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
"No sound estimate is available of the number of people in Australia who use cannabis for medicinal purposes, nor of the number who could benefit from doing so," it states.
Public submissions to the inquiry, considering legislation introduced by Greens minister Shane Rattenbury to legalise medicinal cannabis, closed on February 13.
A committee spokeswoman said members would release submissions after they had been considered.
"There are some medical professionals who think that every medicine should always go through [the Therapeutic Goods Administration testing] process," Mr Moore said.
"Of course this ignores the fact that alternative medicines are used by many, many people in Australia all the time."
Public hearings as part of the inquiry will take place in the coming months.
The proposed scheme would allow terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to grow cannabis and use the drug as part of their treatment.
Under the proposal, sufferers of terminal and chronic illness would apply to the ACT Chief Health Officer for approval to possess and use 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.
The association has called for Australian state and territory governments to explore the feasibility of making medicinal cannabis available through the importing of pharmaceutical-standard cannabis from overseas-based producers or licensing medicinal cannabis production in Australia.
It also calls for governments to support research into the long-term benefits and risks of cannabis compounds for medicinal purposes.