North coast health educators have joined a large chorus of support for legalising marijuana for medical use in NSW.
The NSW Upper House is holding its first day of hearings today in its inquiry into the use of cannabis for medical purposes. It is looking at how it could be supplied and any legal implications.
The inquiry has received 122 submissions, with more than two-thirds of them supporting easing restrictions on cannabis for medical use.
They include respected bodies such as the University Centre for Rural Health, North Coast (UCRH), the Australian Doctors Association (AMA) NSW, and the Cancer Council of NSW.
The UCRH is a collaborative research group of state universities including Southern Cross University, which is supported by the Northern NSW Local Health District and the federal health department.
In its submission, the UCRH says there is compelling evidence that cannabis has therapeutic benefit in treating many diseases, despite its illegality making formal study of its medical effects difficult.
Senior lecturer Dr Hudson Birden says cannabis specifically has demonstrated therapeutic benefit in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, glaucoma, mental illness (depression, bipolar disorder) as well as alleviating chemotherapy side effects and increasing appetite for people with cancer and HIV/AIDS.
‘Cannabinoids contain potent anti tumour agents, thus cannabis smoking may prevent cancer,’ Dr Birden said.
He said medical cannabis had been successfully operating in several US states for some time now and, in those states, suicide rates had dropped nine per cent since legalisation.
Dr Birden said that in consideration of the benefits thus far identified ‘there would appear to be an ethical imperative to approve medical cannabis use’.
Longtime Nimbin based campaigner for reforming marijuana laws, Michael Balderstone, said in his submission that cannabis gave ‘enormous relief to all manner of pain as the history books confirm’.
‘Not long ago at all cannabis was the risk free “cure all” remedy for so many ailments, which only ceased with prohibition. It appears to me the war on drugs is a fight over the profits from pain relief, a sick business really,’ Mr Balderstone said.
‘Many people cannot understand how it is that a herb that stops them getting headaches can be illegal? Prohibition has consequently undermined respect for laws across the country because thousands of people like me have found enormous pain relief in a plant that nothing else could give us, and we are branded outcasts and criminals!’
Mr Balderstone said cannabis could be managed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) rather than the police, and he suggested a register of medical cannabis users, authorised by doctors, so ‘we can monitor the effectiveness of the medicine at the same time, and gather some statistics’.
He also said growers from among registered users should be licensed and allowed to dispense and thus able to also provide health advice and guidance.
‘I think the Canadian model for medical cannabis is worth a look, as it truly took the supply out of the hands of organised crime. Allow registered patients to grow their own and allow those
among them who want to grow more to supply dispensaries after they are granted a growers
licence,’ Mr Balderstone said.
Greens MP Dr John Kaye told ABC Radio that marijuana has many medicinal benefits.
Dr Kaye said ‘we know how to tightly regulate the treatment of drugs such as cannabis; we already do it for opium which is a more dangerous drug in the form of creating Codeine’.
‘There’s no reason we should be denying people access to a very useful palliative set of drugs just because it’s connected to recreational drug use, he said.
Tony Bower, who makes therapeutic cannabis tincture on his property in Kempsey and provides it to cancer sufferers on the north coast, told Fairfax Media he supplied the treatment to hundreds of people around Australia, most referred by their doctors.
‘It’s a legal medicine; it’s just the growing that’s a problem. The law needs to change. It’s going to sick people who need it,’ Mr Bower said.