Drug law reform group backs introduction of medical cannabis in the ACT
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Drug law reform group backs introduction of medical cannabis in the ACT

Public hearings considering the use of marijuana for medical purposes will begin on Thursday, as a leading drug law reform advocacy group called for the ACT to become the first jurisdiction to establish a legal scheme.

An Legislative Assembly committee will hear evidence on the subject as part of its consideration of legislation introduced by Greens minister Shane Rattenbury, which would allow for the use of medical cannabis for the terminally and chronically ill to alleviate pain and symptoms.

In a submission to the inquiry, advocacy group Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform have called for the scheme to go ahead without a new clinical trial.

The group's president Brian McConnell said "ample evidence" already existed to demonstrate the benefits and safety of medical cannabis for those suffering from conditions including cancer, but he said some problems existed with the proposed scheme.

"The legislation says supply is by a person growing their own plants, and that is very problematic," the long-time campaigner said.

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"Some people don't know how to grow successfully, some people don't know how to go about getting access to the seeds. There seems to be a reference to engaging someone to grow for you, and we believe that is a possibility but it seems a little bit more work is needed on that."

Mr McConnell welcomed another inquiry by the federal Parliament considering the supply of medical cannabis, which is already legal in Europe, North America, New Zealand and Britain.

Earlier this month the Public Health Association used a submission to call for doctors to be able to manage a tightly regulated, compassionate regime for the use of medicinal cannabis in Australia.

The Assembly's Health, Ageing, Community and Social Services committee hearings will continue on Friday. Submissions are yet to be publicly released.

The proposed scheme would allow terminally and chronically ill Canberrans to grow cannabis and use the drug as part of their treatment.

Mr Rattenbury's proposal, outlined in an exposure draft released last year, would see sufferers of terminal and chronic illness apply to the ACT Chief Health Officer for approval to possess and use cannabis. Often used illegally, patients using cannabis and oils report relief from pain and suffering, including nausea.

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.

After releasing the draft, Mr Rattenbury last year conceded some changes could be required around the role of the Chief Health Officer.

Mr McConnell said supply to patients in the ACT could be managed through registered growers and importers of cannabis and associated products.

"We've always taken the position that regulation of illicit drugs is the best way to go. We see that its a better solution that totally banning it ... we almost had a prescription program for heroin for those that were severely addicted and the problem there to overcome was prejudice and propaganda."

Anecdotal evidence from Australia and overseas experiences proved the effectiveness of medical cannabis, Mr McConnell said.

"We know of a number of people who are already using cannabis for medical purposes in the ACT now," Mr McConnell said. "Some of them are being looked after by carers and others are self-medicating, and they seem to do very well but one of the problems is that the drug is not subject to quality control in any way under the current system.

"Even if this legislation doesn't get up, people will continue to do it because it provides relief."

The inquiry comes as planning for a NSW government sponsored trial continues with the backing of the Abbott government.

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

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