Strange bedfellows Nimbin’s Hemp Embassy and Nationals Page MP Kevin Hogan have welcomed news that the federal government will seek parliamentary support to allow the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes in Australia.
Hemp Embassy president Michael Balderstone said the move could lead to massive opportunities for the northern rivers to increase employment in a future industry.
Mr Hogan agreed, saying the region could be a prime cultivation area.
‘I have heard numerous stories from members of our community with debilitating illnesses who want access to medicinal cannabis to help relief their chronic pain and improve the quality of their lives,’ Mr Hogan said.
‘Given our climate and strong agricultural sector, the northern rivers would be perfectly placed for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal use,’ Mr Hogan said.
Mr Balderstone said however that while it was fantastic that the federal government was finally recognising that cannabis has terrific medicinal properties, there needed to be recognition that thousands of people used cannabis already as a medicine.
‘They’re saying it’s okay to treat things that pharmaceuticals can’t treat, or have shocking side effects, but will they keep chasing people who use it already as a medicine?’
Federal health minister Sussan Ley announced at the weekend that the government was in the process of finalising draft amendments to the Narcotics Drugs Act 1967 to allow the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes in Australia.
Ms Ley also said the government would create a Commonwealth licensing scheme within the department of health to ensure cultivation meets Australia’s international obligations.
She said allowing controlled cultivation locally would provide the critical “missing piece” for the Commonwealth to enable a sustainable supply of a safe medicinal cannabis product to Australian patients in the future.
It will also allow the government to closely manage the supply of medicinal cannabis products from “farm to pharmacy”, Ms Ley said.
This will be done in conjunction with necessary state or territory regulations and there will be discussions at the next COAG about how this can progress.
Ms Ley said the government was sympathetic to the suffering ‘of those Australians with debilitating illnesses and we want to enable access to the most effective medical treatments available’.
‘Currently there are already systems in place to licence the manufacture and supply of medicinal cannabis-based products in Australia, however there is no mechanism to allow the production of a safe, legal and sustainable local supply,’ she said.
‘This has meant Australian patients, researchers and manufacturers have had to try to access international supplies of legal medicinal cannabis crops and products, but limited supplies and export barriers in other countries have made this difficult.
‘Allowing the cultivation of legal medicinal cannabis crops in Australia under strict controls strikes the right balance between patient access, community protection and our international obligations.’
Mr Balderstone said the governments should see an opportunity to provide employment and economic growth in areas such as the north coast.
‘Here’s a chance to get “pot smoking dole bludgers” working and paying tax,’ Mr Balderstone said.
‘There have been 20,000 people employed in Colorado, which has the same population as Sydney, and on the north coast thousands of people could have legitimate jobs.
‘If they don’t use the local knowledge of growers who have been doing this for decades then they have rocks in their head,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Ms Ley said it was intended to have draft legislation before the parliament by the end of the year after cross-party consultations.
She said the Commonwealth licensing scheme would set out the obligations and legislative framework requirements for states and territories looking to set up agricultural industries around the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes
‘It’s imperative we have a clear national licensing system to ensure we maintain the integrity of crops for medicinal or scientific purposes,’ she said.
‘It allows us to closely manage the supply of medicinal cannabis products from farm to pharmacy.
‘We also want to make sure that this approval and monitoring process for cultivation isn’t fragmented across different jurisdictions and provides regulatory consistency.’