Pubdate: Mon, 23 May 2016
Source: Canberra Times (Australia)
Copyright: 2016 Canberra Times
Author: Christopher Knaus
Page: 3


Users have to break law

The ACT government has rejected a push to create an effective amnesty
for medicinal cannabis users by directing police not to charge them
with drug offences.

Canberrans who rely on medicinal cannabis to treat serious illness or
chronic pain are currently forced to break the law to seek relief and
a number, including campaigner Laura Bryant, have spoken publicly of
their constant fear of arrest.

Moves to establish legal medicinal cannabis cultivation are continuing
federally, with changes to the Narcotics Drugs Act passed in February,
and the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Department of Health
advancing plans to lower barriers preventing access.

But there is considerable pressure for more to be done

Last month, advocacy group The Med Shed was set up to pressure ACT
politicians ahead of the October territory election.

Group co-ordinator Matthew Holmes called on Justice Minister and
Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury to provide an amnesty for medicinal
cannabis users from prosecution.

Mr Rattenbury was already attempting to convince Police Minister Simon
Corbell to do just that.

He wrote to Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Mr Corbell in March,
seeking that the police minister use his annual directions to ACT
Policing - designed to guide the force's priorities for the year - to
create an effective amnesty for medicinal cannabis users.

Mr Rattenbury's proposal to the government sought a direction to
police that they not charge genuine medicinal cannabis users with
drug-related offences.

He proposed users would require certification by a doctor as having a
particular illness, and would be listed on a registry and given an ID

But the government, which is broadly supportive of a national
medicinal cannabis scheme, rebuffed the Greens proposal, saying the
ministerial police directions were not the right way to create such an
amnesty, and that it would have little practical effect, because
police already knew to focus their efforts on suppliers, not
individual users.

Mr Rattenbury said he was disappointed that the government had
rebuffed the proposal.

''This is actually about providing peace of mind to people who are in
a very vulnerable place,'' Mr Rattenbury said.

''They are largely law-abiding people who wouldn't dream of entering
into the drug scene per se, but they know that cannabis can be used in
a medicinal way,'' he said.

The ACT government is supportive of allowing medicinal marijuana use
in ''limited circumstances for particular forms of illness'', but
wants a national approach, and a national cultivation and manufacture

Locally, the ACT is considering how it will need to reform laws and
develop clinical guidelines to facilitate medicinal cannabis use.

But Mr Corbell said that his formal directions to police were simply
not the right way to create an amnesty from prosecution for users and
that police already had a wide discretion.

''It's outside the scope and purpose of the [ministerial] direction to
do that, the direction is to express the minister's expectations or
priorities for policing activity,'' he said.
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