Staff reporters and AAP
North coast medicinal-cannabis advocate Tony Bower says giving police discretionary powers over who can or cannot use medical marijuana is ‘silly’ and raises ‘a moral dilemma’.
The NSW government yesterday announced that it would immediately fund three clinical trials on the use of the drug for pain relief, but under the new guidelines, police will have discretion to not charge terminally-ill cannabis users and their carers.
Mr Bower, who was jailed last year for growing cannabis from which he made medicinal-cannabis tincture which he gave to people with debilitating illness or terminally ill, slammed yesterday’s announcement as ‘baffling’.
Mr Bower told the ABC that giving police the right to discern who does or doesn’t get charged for using medicinal cannabis raised a moral dilemma.
He said the government had not put much thought into the issue.
‘When have the police of all of a sudden become our doctors?’ Mr Bowers, who successfully appealed in October against a 12-month jail sentence for growing cannabis plants for his medicinal tincture, said.
Mr Bower, whose company Mullaways Medical Cannabis has in the past 12 years supplied tincture to more than 150 people, many of them children, was arrested this year for cultivating plants while still on a good behaviour bond from the District Court for a previous cultivation offence.
The medical-cannabis trials are set to get underway in NSW this week but it could take years before it’s approved for mainstream use.
The $9 million trials will be conducted on children with severe epilepsy, terminally ill adults and those undergoing chemotherapy.
Two of the trials will be undertaken at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children’s Hospital.
But while hundreds of patients will be accepted into the program, those who miss out could face a lengthy wait to experience any therapeutic benefits.
‘Medical cannabis’ time has come,’ Premier Mike Baird told reporters.
‘We need to get the research in place, we need to get the scientific evidence in place, we need to get the medical evidence in place and once we have that we can work out how we can make a difference to thousands of people,’ he said.
Health minister Jillian Skinner said it could take years for the trials to be approved for mainstream use.
‘Clinical trials have to go through very rigorous ethics standards, controls have to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Association, which is a Commonwealth body, so it could take months if not years,’ Ms Skinner said.
And new guidelines have been given to police who now have the discretion to look the other way with terminally-ill cannabis users and their carers.
An expert panel led by NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant has been established.
The head of the epilepsy program at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Dr Deepak Gill, and child neurology epilepsy specialist Dr John Lawson from Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, and their teams will also be involved in the trial.
But deputy opposition leader Adam Searle said the trials are moving too slowly and the new police guidelines are creating grey areas in the law.
‘The terminally ill have little to look forward to from these clinical trials, which could take years that many people simply do not have to wait,’ Mr Seale said.
Before the trials can get underway the NSW government has to overcome logistical hurdles in importing medical cannabis products from Europe or the US.
Approval for the importation of the products may take several weeks, but if permission is denied the NSW government has indicated it could grow its own cannabis crop.
The government could also outsource the task to the private sector.
Supply and distribution protocols will be established for each trial and Mr Baird stressed that the drug remains illegal.
‘The government will continue to reinforce the message that recreational use of cannabis is illegal and will not be tolerated,’ Mr Baird said.
Australian Medical Association NSW president Saxon Smith welcomed the trials.
‘This will allow sick people access to medicine that is being tested and examined for efficacy – potentially improving their lives in the short-term and providing evidence to help the wider population in the longer term,’ Dr Smith said.
Abbott supports trial
Prime minister Tony Abbott supports the NSW trial for medicinal cannabis but has dodged suggestions a national experiment should happen.
Mr Abbott said the federal regulator had already approved medicinal marijuana for use under certain circumstances.
Asked whether a federal trial would happen, Mr Abbott indicated the need to wait and see what happened with NSW.
‘In the end, it is more state law than federal laws that govern this,’ he told the Seven Network.
Fairfax Media reported that the NSW government expects to find out in the next few weeks if it will be able to import cannabis to be used in the trials, or if it will have to grow the marijuana itself.
To procure the cannabis for the trials, the government will first attempt to negotiate an import arrangement with the federal government.
‘If we need to deal with the supply ourselves, we are ready to go in relation to that, but we need to decide whether it can be imported. I expect that, in coming weeks, to be resolved.’