ACT awaits details on NSW-led medical marijuana trial
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ACT awaits details on NSW-led medical marijuana trial

The ACT government is yet to finalise plans for its involvement in a New South Wales-led medicinal marijuana trial, which could see patients or researchers given access to the drug in Canberra.

Newly appointed Health Minister Simon Corbell welcomed details of the NSW trial on Monday and said ACT health officials were continuing their discussions about the territory's involvement in what has been described as a Commonwealth-backed clinical trial of the drug.

NSW authorities are negotiating with Commonwealth officials over special permission to import cannabis to be used in the three studies, but will also consider growing the drug domestically if required.

Under the plan announced by Premier Mike Baird and NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, children with severe epilepsy, adults with terminal illness and individuals suffering from nausea induced by chemotherapy will have the opportunity to take part.

The trials will cost about $9 million and involve hundreds of people.

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"This is a welcome development and the ACT is engaging closely with our officials through New South Wales Health, as they progress their trial framework for the medicinal use of marijuana," Mr Corbell said.

"We see value in being part of that process and we will continue to engage with NSW Health to determine whether or not we can be actively engaged as part of that trial."

The first trial to start will include doctors at two Sydney children's hospitals and will study children with severe epilepsy who do not respond to traditional medical treatments.

The NSW government will also establish a medical cannabis expert panel to be chaired by the state's Chief Medical Officer, Kerry Chant. Authorities have instructed police not to charge adults with terminal illness or carers who use cannabis.

Mr Corbell said it was far too early to say if Canberra hospitals would take part in any aspect of the trials.

"We see value in being part of that process and we will continue to engage with NSW Health to determine whether or not we can be actively engaged as part of that trial," he said.

"There is nothing concrete yet determined but we've certainly indicated our interest."

Mr Corbell stressed NSW wouldn't seek to change the status of cannabis and a Legislative Assembly committee considering a bill put forward by Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury was separate to discussion of clinical trials.

In July, Mr Rattenbury announced his push to allow terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to grow marijuana and use the drug to alleviate their pain and symptoms.

Users would have to apply to the ACT Chief Health Officer for approval to possess cannabis and applications would fall into three categories, including terminal illness with a prognosis of death within a year, chronic or debilitating conditions or a serious illness or condition such as cancer, AIDS or HIV, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or epilepsy.

A committee will consider the bill and report to the ACT government in June 2015. Public hearings are expected in March and April. Public submissions are due by February 13.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott restated his support for the NSW-led trial on Monday, but appeared to dodge calls for a nationally co-ordinated study.

Mr Abbott told Channel Seven the National Health and Medical Research Council had already approved medicinal marijuana for use under some circumstances. He said further decisions could only come after consideration of the NSW trial.

"In the end, it is more state law than federal laws that govern this," Mr Abbott said.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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