On Thursday November 7th, 2019 in the Adelaide District Court (Criminal Jurisdiction), the sentencing of Jennifer Lee Hallam took place at 9.43am before his Honour Judge Soulio.
Jennifer, Jenny to her friends, arrived at Court
Room 8 impeccably presented but visibly shaking, with tears welling in her
She was greeted, with a warm embrace by an
integral member of her legal team, her Solicitor (& Barrister) Jessica Kurtzer. Barrister Greg Barns, unable to be in court
for the culmination of this process, had worked alongside Jessica to ensure the
best possible outcome for their client.
The many hours of diligent work and counsel by this exceptional legal team
was about to be tested for what, they’d hoped, would be the final time.
This process, the process of justice, had taken
its toll. Today Jenny, along with a small gathering of her closest friends and
supporters, were about to walk through the heavy wooden doors into a
light-filled, almost clinical room, adorned with paintings of former Judges who
had presided in that place.
There was quiet chatter amongst the media
contingent and gentle touches and caring smiles of assurance in Jenny’s
Jenny had pleaded guilty (albeit late in the
piece) to manufacturing a controlled drug, Cannabis oil, between 1 November
2016 and 5 January 2017, and possessing Cannabis oil for supply to another
person on 4 January 2017.
The maximum penalties are a fine of $30,000 or
seven-years imprisonment, or both, and $15,000 fine or three years
imprisonment, or both, respectively. Judge Soulio noted that such offending covers
a wide range of circumstances.
The full sentencing remarks can be found here:
That said, I encourage and urge respect and caution in sharing the full extract given the very personal information disclosed as part of this process. Jenny’s life is now, for all intents and purposes, an open book.
There are some chapters that had to be aired to
ensure that every mitigating circumstance was disclosed. That disclosure was traumatic and harrowing
for Jenny and I would suggest equally so for her friends and supporters. This is personal. Deeply personal.
Judge Soulio said upfront that the genesis of Jenny’s
offending was to be found in her experience of chronic pain and subsequent
psychological issues, and her reliance on and subsequent addiction to, opioid
medication and psychotropic medication.
Jenny is not alone in that regard.
To summarise succinctly Jenny’s lengthy medical
history as recited by Judge Soulio, licit opiates and antidepressant medication
had been ineffective to treat her chronic pain and had produced wide-ranging
Other therapies and prescription medications were
described by a treating doctor as “sub-optimally effective, and not without
The list reads like a copy the Monthly Index of
Medical Specialities (MIMS). MIMS is a
pharmaceutical prescribing reference guide.
For the record, I’m certain you will not find whole plant Cannabis or
Cannabis oil amongst its pages – I’ll happily stand corrected.
Jenny was quite rightly described by a treating
doctor as “resilient, resourceful and an independent person.” The doctor, in a letter tabled as part of
many submissions, had also set out a history noting that Jenny had not been
satisfied with the limitations of conventional therapy for her afflictions and
had sought alternative approaches.
It was during that epic journey that Jenny discovered
the benefits of Cannabis and Cannabis oil, which proved to be effective in
managing her symptoms. Jenny had become
adept in ‘fine-tuning’ the product she made which gave her the best
relief. In doing so Jenny, Judge Soulio,
reflecting the doctor’s viewpoint said, “true to your altruistic personality
you saw the potential benefit for others suffering from cancer pain, epilepsy
and other medical ailments for which conventional medicine proved wanting.”
Compellingly, since early in 2016, because of Jenny’s
own initiative in identifying Cannabis oil as providing therapeutic benefit, Jenny
no longer required the use of prescribed opioid analgesics, or antidepressant
or anxiolytic medication
Ironically, it was in 2016 when the law shifted in
Australia. Patients in South Australia could
legally access Medicinal Cannabis medicines as a result of federal legislative
changes which came into effect in November 2016 and the development of a
patient access pathway.
I will say again, as I have many times, the
patient access pathways are cumbersome and largely unaffordable.
The same doctor expressed the opinion that “conventional
medicine had been less than effective in the management of chronic pain and
many other conditions and could no longer claim a monopoly in pain management.”
He said, “opioid analgesics use had reached an epidemic and crisis point
They have also reached crisis point in
Australia. There are now huge billboards
dotted around the nation that point this out.
This is an extract from a piece published in
September this year via Medical Xpress. Medical
Xpress is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service
which covers a full range of topics.
“It’s depressing at times to see
how we, as practitioners, literally messed up our communities,”
said Dr. Bastian Seidel, who warned that Australia’s opioid problem was a
“national emergency” two years ago when he was president of the Royal
Australian College of General Practitioners. “It’s our signature on the
He sees Australia moving with wilful ignorance
toward a disaster.
“Unfortunately, in Australia,
we’ve followed the bad example of the U.S.,” he says. “And now we
have the same problem.”
The full piece can be read here: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-09-australia-opioid-crisis.html
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) in a
statement released on September 9, 2019 spoke to The Therapeutic Goods
Administration’s (TGA) announcement changes to reduce harm in relation to prescription
In a statement, the TGA says pharmaceutical
opioids are now responsible for far more deaths and poisoning hospitalisations
in Australia than illegal opioids such as heroin.
“Every day in Australia, nearly 150
hospitalisations and 14 emergency department admissions involve opioid harm,
and three people die from drug-induced deaths involving opioid use,”
the statement says.
The changes will be phased in from
January 2020. All the changes and the full TGA statement can be found at: https://www.tga.gov.au/alert/prescription-opioids
It perplexes me that the TGA can tie Medicinal
Cannabis up in so much red tape that it is out of reach for most and that the
AMA aren’t more supportive of GP education around Medicinal Cannabis and the
streamlining of the process of prescribing.
Not to mention updating the curriculum for those currently training to
become doctors and allied health professionals.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that “Opioids
accounted for just over 3 deaths per day in 2018. The majority of these opioid-induced
fatalities were unintentional overdoses in middle aged males involving the use
of pharmaceutical opioids, often in the presence of other substances. Opioid
related harm, including mortality, is a serious public health issue both in
Australia and internationally.”
Age distribution of opioid-induced
“The age distribution of
opioid-induced deaths differs considerably from that for all causes. The
highest proportion of deaths (30.4%) occurs in those aged between 35-44, while
87.5% of deaths occur between the ages of 25-64. In total 39,221 years of
potential life were lost, and on average a person dying from an overdose with
opioid involvement died 34.9 years prematurely.”
To bring this point home – not one
person has died from Cannabis. I would suggest it is fair to say that lives
have been saved and lives have been and will continue to be prolonged.
Back to Jenny’s story – “new modalities in pain
management were urgently required” – treating doctor.
The judge said time and time again that he
regarded such expressions of opinion as ‘personal opinion’ and not
necessarily medical guidance. I however,
consider it to be a powerful combination of both.
There is a shift in public opinion
regarding Medicinal Cannabis.
Legislators take heed.
As a result of Jenny’s pursuit of an ‘alternative
therapy’ she no longer requires “prescribed medication for pain and negative
mood, and that the use of cannabis oil had resulted in the restoration of (her)
physical function and had aided in your psychological wellbeing.”
Following delivering his summation of the
submissions tabled, Judge Soulio returned to Jenny’s offending.
“There is no suggestion
that any recipient of the cannabis material you were producing and supplying
suffered any harm. Indeed, as I have said, the only evidence I have is strongly
to the contrary.”
“There is no suggestion
that any recreational user of cannabis obtained product from you, and no
evidence that any product was on-sold by the recipients of your products.”
Jenny produced two products, a coconut-oil-based
product and a full extract cannabis-oil product, which she supplied in syringes
and capsules. During the raid of her home the police took Jenny’s client lists,
which in Judge Soulio’s view, made it clear by the information recorded that
the supply was solely for medical purposes.
Judge Soulio then recounted Jenny’s personal
circumstances. He regarded Jenny to be a first offender and against the
background he turned to the question of sentence.
He noted that “the paramount purpose of the
sentencing legislation is the protection of the community” and he took that
into account along with legislative provisions in relation to the general
principles of sentencing and the individual sentencing factors to be taken into
Jenny’s counsel submitted, and the judge accepted,
that Jenny recognised the wrongfulness of her conduct by way of her plea of
guilty, “which although entered at a late stage, was in circumstances
complicated by the scientific evidence relating to the production of cannabis
oil, and the issue of whether the cannabis oil you were producing fell within
the purview of the Controlled Substances Act.”
Jenny has been offered employment – an adverse
outcome, in terms of sentencing, would unequivocally mean that she would not be
able to consider that offer further.
Judge Soulio had regard to other cases when
considering the sentence he would impose upon Jenny. The
details are included in the transcript.
I believe now that Jenny’s case will now be precedent
“Ms Hallam, in your matter I have come
to the view that the appropriate basis upon which to proceed is to require you
to enter into a bond, without recording a
conviction or passing sentence.
The bond will be in the sum of $1,000
and will be for a duration of two years. The only conditions of the bond are
that you are be of good behaviour, and that you are to come up for conviction
and sentence if the bond is breached.”
“I want to make it clear that that is
not a licence to produce unregulated medical cannabis. I regard yours as an
exceptional case, strongly supported by persuasive evidence, as to your
personal circumstances, the circumstances in which you came to use cannabis oil
for your own purposes, noting as to the fact that by the use of that cannabis
oil you have been able to free yourself from an addiction to opioid medication
and anti-anxiolytic medication, and as to the fact that your provision of that
material to others who suffered a range of conditions was motivated by a genuine
compassion to help others, and was not motivated in any way by commercial gain
and indeed, as I have observed, at considerable expense to you.”
“I also take into account that in addition to those exceptional circumstances, you have been involved in what was for you a traumatic legal process, which of itself has been obviously a salutary experience for you and indicates to you the seriousness with which such matters are regarded.”
Throughout Judge Soulio’s summation (close to an
hour of commentary), personal and professional testimony was recounted.
I sat in the court room transfixed and hung on
Judge Soulio’s ruling today demonstrated deep
wisdom, understanding and shrewd perception of the matter before him. Above all, it revealed compassion and significant
promise for the future of drug law reform in South Australia and in other
If we are to take seriously the narrative and that
has just been aired in the Adelaide District Court, then each politician (and
those who aspire to be) and their staffers must read the sentencing
Once read, they need to be fully briefed by those
in the know.
To make it simple here is a very short list
(noting these people wear many hats):
- Carol Ireland – CEO and Managing
Director of Epilepsy Action Australia.
- Professor Iain McGregor, Professor of
Psychopharmacology & Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative at the
University of Sydney.
- Greg Barns, Barrister & strong
advocate for Drug Law Reform
- Dr Alex Wodak – President of
Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
- Associate Professor David Caldicott –
Emergency Consultant at the Emergency Department of the Calvary Hospital in
Canberra and a Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the
Australian National University
- Lucy Haslam – Founder of United in
- Prof Simon Eckermann – Health
Economist – University of Wollongong
- Mick Palmer – Retired Australian
Federal Police Commissioner
- The wider constituency.
Then, quite simply, they need to act.
If you don’t have time to review the whole
transcript, here are some extracts from the sentencing remarks attributed to
Carol Ireland and Professor Iain McGregor.
“Ms Ireland said she had
never encouraged anyone to break the law but had not judged those who had done
so in desperation for the sake of their loved ones.”
referred to an authoritative review of the literature by the United States
National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine, published in 2017,
which concluded that there was substantial evidence to support the use of
medicinal cannabis products in treating chronic pain, as an anti-emetic in
people undergoing chemotherapy,
Professor McGregor noted
that as part of the work of the Lambert Initiative surveys indicated that over
85 per cent of the community in Australia supported the availability of
medicinal cannabis products to patients in need.
Initiative study, published in 2018, showed that many families with severely
epileptic children treated their children with illicit cannabis products.
Parents felt compelled to try illicit products because the prescription
medications prescribed by neurologists either did not work or caused
intolerable side effects, and because official government schemes to allow
access to cannabis products were too restrictive or offered products that were
Professor McGregor said
that the inability of the official Therapeutic Goods Administration Scheme to
service the majority of patients in Australia, could be attributed to at least
four factors, the third of which was that the expensive nature of the
products meant that a chronic pain patient would need to spend $20,000 per
year for official products, and the family of an epileptic child more than
$50,000 per year. He said that patients can expend a great deal of effort going
through the process of obtaining official access to medicinal cannabis
products, only to find the products are unaffordable.
concluded that whilst it is clear that you were breaking the law, it is also
clear, in his opinion, that there was sufficient evidence, having regard to the
effectiveness of cannabis oil on the various conditions that were you helping
treat, that your (Jenny’s) conduct was understandable. He said while it
is never preferable for homemade artisanal oils lacking proper quality control
to be used as medicines, his research had shown time and time again that
desperate patients have little choice. Moreover, many of those patients
achieved significant and sometimes miraculous relief from their afflictions.
I have nothing but respect and admiration for Jenny and for her legal counsel.
The outcome of this protracted case is not just vindication for Jenny but significantly, it is a win for the case for compassionate access to cannabis.
I will continue to advocate for a legal framework
that not only allows for affordable access to whole plant medicine but also to
fast-track the decriminalisation of cannabis.