Melbourne man Matthew Walker, a Crohn’s disease sufferer, told a MardiGrass forum on medical cannabis that cannabis tincture had given him back his life. Photo Luis Feliu
The NSW government has been urged to adopt the recommended legalisation of medical cannabis for people with terminal illness and AIDS, but campaigners say it should go further as many currently self-medicating illegally with the drug will continue to be labelled as criminals.
Yesterday’s unanimous recommendation by a parliamentary committee, which if adopted will allow patients to use up to 15 grams of dry cannabis or its equivalent in cannabis products, has been hailed as a small but essential step forward.
But drug law reform campaigners say the limited group now recommended for legal access to medicinal cannabis use should be expanded further to a much larger body of sufferers of potentially terminal diseases now using the drug.
One sufferer of Crohn’s disease told Echonetdaily that many multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease patients would have to be included as their disease could become terminal.
He also said cannabis tincture or oil was a much more effective for pain relief as well as treating diseases and cancers than dry cannabis, which if smoked would not have the same benefit.
Ironically, the sufferer has used a cannabis tincture supplied free of charge by jailed medicinal cannabis supplier Tony Bower, who was controversially sentenced to a year’s jail in Kempsey court last month for growing cannabis plants for medical use.
Mr Bower, of Mullaways Medical Cannabis, has appealed the sentence and the case will be heard on June 3. Supporters continue to dispense his tincture free to disease sufferers.
The chairwoman of the Upper House committee, Sarah Mitchell, a Nationals MP, told media the committee had unanimously supported the use of cannabis-based products for prescription use after considering scientific evidence that cannabis has particular value in the treatment of pain.
Ms Mitchell said the committee concluded that people who were at the end of their lives should not be criminalised for taking steps to relieve severe pain or to stimulate their appetites.
Fear and ignorance
The Nimbin-based HEMP (Help End Marijuana Prohibition) Party of Australia says the recommendation has ‘put the debate squarely on the table again, which can only help educate people and dispel some of the ignorance and fear that surrounds the use of cannabis’.
HEMP Party president Michael Balderstone said medical cannabis use should be a health issue not a political one.
Mr Balderstone said if the NSW Parliament adopted the recommendation, it would ‘likely only benefit a tiny fraction of the state’s cannabis users, so we are not dealing with the real elephant in the room’.
‘Meanwhile we remain nearly 20 years behind America, which first legalised medical cannabis in 1996 and now has half the country dispensing to patients. We could learn a lot from them,’ he said.
President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, said it would now be hard for NSW premier Barry O’Farrell to ignore a unanimous report.
Dr Wodak said he was confident the move would start to spread to the other eight states and ‘maybe also to New Zealand’.
He said, ‘we would all have preferred that this recommendation was made and accepted many years ago’ but ‘when a policy has been deeply entrenched for a long time, turning that around takes a long time, just like turning around an aircraft carrier.
‘This has been a good day for common sense and compassion, but there’s still a long way to go.’
The parliamentary committee comprised two members of the National Party, one from the Liberal Party, one from Labor, one from the Greens and one from the Shooters and Fishers Party.
The Greens member of the committee, Dr John Kaye, said the coalition and Labor ‘must not let the inevitable and unjustified hysteria that surrounds cannabis law reform interfere with the opportunity to provide relief for people who are in pain and dying’.
‘This recommendation will not add to the supply of cannabis, nor will it in any significant way encourage the use of the drug; it is about giving some relief to those who are in appalling pain,’ Dr Kaye said.
‘The committee also supported the much less controversial use of pharmaceutical cannabis in pill, tincture or spray form as a prescription drug.
‘Patients who suffer from multiple sclerosis and chronic pain where other treatments have failed are likely to benefit from the new pharmaceuticals that could be developed from cannabis products.
‘There is also a growing body of evidence that some tumours may respond to some of the ingredients in cannabis.
‘I have written to health minister Jillian Skinner urging her to support further research into the treatment of certain cancers with cannabis components.
‘It is a tribute to the power of the evidence that was presented to the committee that all the recommendations were unanimous,’ Dr Kaye said.
Labor MP Luke Foley, who initiated the inquiry six months ago, said, ‘as members of parliament we need to be guided by facts and evidence rather than slogans and hysteria’.
Guided by experts
Mr Foley said, ‘we should be guided by the experts: by clinicians on the medical issues and lawyers on the legal issues’.
Mr Foley said as a general rule members of the Upper House rarely agree on issues so the recommendation was ‘extremely significant’.
‘A consensus has emerged among politicians from five parties for a compassionate approach to the use of cannabis by patients for whom cannabis could have a profoundly relieving effect.
‘This discussion is now firmly back on the political agenda in NSW,’ he said.
The report on the inquiry tabled yesterday can be found at http://j.mp/MediCana.
Mr Balderstone said that under the proposed new regime, only those who qualify to be on the ‘authorised cannabis patients and carers’ list will be allowed access to cannabis as a medicine.
‘So the vast majority of those who are currently self-medicating illegally will continue to be labelled criminals.
‘In the executive summary, the committee notes that cannabis is “an effective treatment for some medical conditions”. It then goes on to note that 69 per cent of Aussies support legislation to allow the medical use of cannabis.
‘We think if patients are authorised by a doctor, 90 per cent of Australians would support medical cannabis use no longer being a criminal offence.
‘It is in truth a health issue and far better doctors making these decisions rather than police and politicians who are surely not the drug experts.
‘Meanwhile our politicians have to consider the recommendations and we urge all NSW medical cannabis users to contact their local parliamentarian and explain to them how they benefit from their choice of medicine, how much their medication costs them on the black market, and how being a criminal for their choice of medicine has affected their life,’ Mr Balderstone said.
CBD v THC
Melbourne man Matthew Walker, who recently addressed a Nimbin MardiGrass panel on the issue, told Echonetdaily the committee was ‘missing the point’ in that the active ingredient of cannabis which treated disease and relieved pain was cannabidiol (CBD), which was refined in oil and tincture, rather than the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, THC, found in the dry herb.
Mr Walker said the dry cannabis with mostly THC and chlorophyll was mainly smoked and not nearly enough as effective for medical use as the CBD-rich extracts in oils and tinctures. which could be also used in a vaporiser.
‘The CBD is the cancer killer, so oils or cakes and cookies made from cannabis have much more of that in them than the dry plant matter, and inhaling it is not as beneficial.
‘However 15 grams can make a lot of cookies or cake mix as you then only need a small amount to medicate and relieve pain for many hours.
‘People should be educated in how to make their own tincture from the cannabis to maximise its potential,’ he said.
Mr Walker told the forum at MardiGrass his life of suffering with Crohn’s disease had ended since he started using cannabis tincture two years ago.
He said chemotherapy had made him sick and wasted his mind and body away while the tincture allowed him to live a normal life without the nausea, painful and constant bouts of diarrhoea, and lack of sleep.
He was able to go to work as it ‘opened a new door for me’.