Pubdate: Sat, 18 May 2013
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2013sThe Australian
Author: Ross Fitzgerald
Note: Ross Fitzgerald's memoir, My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic's 
Journey, is now available as an e-book.


The Benefits Are Clear; a Ban on Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes 
Cannot Be Supported

MEDICINAL use of cannabis should be permitted in Australia.

In 2013, we should not still be merely discussing this possibility. 
On Wednesday, a NSW parliamentary committee, chaired by Nationals MP 
Sarah Mitchell, unanimously recommended that medicinal cannabis be 
permitted for some people with certain terminal conditions.

At present, 18 states in the US allow medical marijuana and a further 
10 are considering it. Apart from providing genuine alternatives to 
existing medicines, this approach has kick-started scientific 
research on cannabis by an industry that has until recently been 
cowed from embarking on research projects.

There is strong community support for medicinal cannabis in 
Australia, but no state or territory permits it. So Tony Bowers, a 
community activist, has been challenging the law by providing 
cannabis tincture on compassionate grounds to people with distressing 
conditions. Following a current affairs TV show focusing on his work, 
police arrested Bowers. He now is serving a 12-month jail term. 
Bowers claims to have had positive results from his tinctures, 
including curing a seven-year-old girl with Dravet syndrome who had 
been having severe epileptic fits since she was six weeks old.

It is important to separate the very different issues of medicinal 
and recreational use of cannabis. The recent Nimbin Mardigrass 
Festival saw a coming together of doctors, patients who had been 
using medical marijuana and political campaigners advocating drug-law 
reform. The experienced NSW-based drug-law reformer, Alex Wodak, put 
the issue in perspective when he addressed one of the seminars: 
"After all, in 2013, medicine legally uses morphine, cocaine and 
amphetamine, while the recreational use of these substances is 
strictly prohibited. We could use cannabis medically and still ban 
the recreational use of the drug if we wanted to."

I can't see how any politician could argue with this position. As 
distinguished US biologist Stephen Jay Gould said: "It is beyond my 
comprehension that any humane person would withhold such a beneficial 
substance (cannabis) from people in great need simply because others 
use it for different purposes."

When NSW premier Bob Carr commissioned a report from a high-level 
committee in 2000, it was supportive of the use of medicinal 
cannabis. Although the report was based heavily on reports from the 
British House of Lords (1997-98) and the US Institute of Medicine 
(1999), the matter did not progress. Since then, the evidence that 
cannabis is effective in a number of medical conditions has become stronger.

Australian Sex Party president Fiona Patten, who was on the same 
panel as Wodak, told the audience that adult shops, tobacconists and 
herbal shops reported that, over the past two years, they had been 
inundated by elderly people seeking legal synthetic marijuana 
preparations. These people were trying to alleviate distressing 
symptoms from a range of illnesses including Parkinson's disease, 
fibromyalgia and insomnia.

Patten claimed that they were only buying the synthetic variety 
because they did not want to have to engage in an illegal transaction 
for plant cannabis and that politicians had fostered the growth of 
the synthetic trade by outlawing cannabis.

The same panel heard from Angela, a young and brave woman with 
inoperable brain cancer. Her life began a downward spiral where she 
lost her children and she was on such strong painkillers that she was 
virtually unconscious most of the day. After a year of treatment with 
cannabis medications, the cancer has retreated and she is now on the 
way to a full recovery.

Another member of the panel, a middle-aged man with longterm Crohn's 
disease, reported being cured within a few months by cannabis 
tinctures manufactured by Bowers.

So the answer to the question of whether or not Australia should 
allow medicinal use of cannabis seems to me abundantly clear. What is 
less clear is how this should be achieved. One option is to allow 
people who have been shown to have one of a range of serious medical 
conditions, and of sufficient severity, to be exempt from prosecution 
when purchasing and/or cultivating cannabis. The exemption from 
prosecution that some taxi drivers and pregnant women are granted for 
not wearing a seat belt might offer some sort of precedent.

However, many reformers don't like this approach, mainly because they 
think people with a serious illness should not have to resort to 
these measures in order to receive a medication.

Another option might be to allow the use of pharmaceutically prepared 
products such as Sativex - a cannabis-based oral spray that helps 
with spasticity in multiple sclerosis sufferers. However, this will 
probably cost about $500 a month and most people who would want to 
use cannabis medicinally won't have that sort of money. And some 
researchers believe Sativex is not as effective as leaf cannabis.

The third option, favoured by Wodak, is importing cannabis leaf that 
has been produced under meticulous conditions in The Netherlands, 
also purchased by Israel and Canada. This is likely to be much less expensive.

US state politicians have embarked on a path of cannabis law reform 
that is diametrically opposed to the path Australian politicians are 
taking. Last month in Queensland, the Newman government introduced 
draconian laws that say if you sell something with the "intention" of 
selling something "similar" to synthetic cannabis, you are guilty, 
even if it turns out to be lawn clippings. Patten sought the advice 
of a chemical expert on the laws and issued a media release claiming 
the government had inadvertently made a whole range of household 
substances illegal - including chocolate, echinacea, saffron and 
tryptophan. The Queensland government has not refuted her claims.

The history of cannabis prohibition is flawed with technical 
mistakes, ignorance and prejudice. Cannabis was initially banned 
worldwide (including in Australia) because an Egyptian delegation to 
a League of Nations meeting in 1925 said it was as dangerous as 
opium. Yet no research was provided to back the claim. Eighty-eight 
years on, thousands of people have been jailed and governments and 
police have spent many millions of dollars maintaining this 
prohibition. One of the costs of this prohibition has been that 
people with cancer, AIDS or MS still cannot benefit from the medical 
use of cannabis.

It's well and truly time for this nonsense to stop.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom