ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher was completely correct in drawing to the attention of her department and police information she had been given that a two-year-old child was being given cannabis oil as "treatment" for a developmental disorder. She would have been entirely derelict, in both her duty to the child and to the community, had she not done so.
The basis of her duty was by no means necessarily a legal obligation on the part of certain specified persons to report suspected child abuse (though, as Health Minister, she was probably covered by that) but a fundamental duty in any citizen to seek proper intervention when there is serious cause for concern about the health and welfare of a child. The mere fact that those administering the treatment are convinced of their righteousness, and have deep faith in their panacea, is neither here nor there. Indeed, the fact that possession of cannabis is in many respects illegal is hardly even at the centre of this obligation, given that the drug, which has definite though uncertain pharmacological effects,was being administered to a small child. This newspaper has long supported further decriminalisation of cannabis as well as other illegal drugs, but even detached advocates of this would hesitate about enabling its ingestion by children.
The case for the further decriminalisation of cannabis does not turn on any supposed medical effects, which are in any event not well documented or demonstrated in the scientific literature. There have been claims that the drug has a palliative effect, and that it has some moderating effect on the symptoms of some neurological diseases, including motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis and perhaps some forms of dementia, but most such claims are anecdotal rather than based on properly tested evidence.
In the particular case in which Ms Gallagher was involved, the person who was supplying cannabis for the child referred to her as his "patient". But, although he is an enthusiast and advocate of the use of medical marijuana, he lacks medical qualifications. Were he a mere supplier of a potentially useful drug to careful and supervised treatment by someone able to take responsibility for what occurred, that might be one thing. But it seems the involvement went beyond that, a fact, perhaps, made manifest by the fact that he was advertising what he believed to have been efficacious treatment.
The idea that he had the judgment, or proper knowledge, to organise "treatments" – as opposed to the dispensation of harmless pabulum such as vitamins – is absolutely ludicrous. One might imagine the storm of protest that would descend on the ACT health system had it become known that it was permitting or using entirely unqualified people to prescribe and supply drugs to children in its care.
As it happens, the child in question was in NSW, outside the ACT system for which Ms Gallagher has some responsibility (though she did not know that when she queried her own department). But that hardly affects the responsibilities of any sensible adult in the matter. Likewise, the child has a serious and rare chromosomal disorder, and it seems the most that can be hoped for is some relief from the symptoms of her condition, which have included serious seizures and developmental delays. In that sense, the "treatment" could probably have been, at best, palliative, and any relief from the symptoms not in any way indicative of actual improvement in the condition. That might provide a satisfactory excuse for experimental medical treatment of a consulting adult; it is entirely unsatisfactory as an argument for the management of the health of young children.
One would expect indeed that when, or if, legislation is put in place, as is now occurring in the US, permitting the wider use of cannabis products, that there will be explicit prohibitions of its use among children, except under careful medical supervision in controlled circumstances. If it lacks them, the measure should fail. Indeed, it is surprising that police, or the health authorities, have not acted, if only so as to make the limitations of well-intention amateur interventions clear.