Medical Cannabis – Time to regain our bearings

“Where is North?”, I asked my cab driver as he assisted me from the car.  I had arrived in Melbourne and I felt disorientated by the long shadows and grey buildings as I looked skyward to find the Sun.  The man looked at me, somewhat puzzled and hesitantly he pointed in a very general direction.  I smiled and thanked him.

I can’t help but think that a similar sense of confusion has fallen over our legislators and policy makers when it comes to Medical Cannabis.  I have just spent three full days at the United in Compassion Medical Cannabis Symposium listening to an array of world class speakers and experts in their field sharing their knowledge, their concerns and their hopes.

It is all but impossible to capture every highlight and compelling narrative from the event, however what is clear is that the public are overwhelmingly in favour of and are seeking Cannabis as a treatment option.

Prior to the symposium commencing a day was dedicated to offer a Workshop which was Australia’s first Medical Cannabis course, designed for health care practitioners, by health care practitioners.  Dr David Caldicott who designed and delivered the training reported that attendance was high (92 participants) and the Basic Science Module met the needs of participants to a very high degree. Invitations have been received to deliver more training and it would be prudent for all jurisdictions to get on board.  Wise too for those who design the curriculum for medical and allied health students to incorporate more than a cursory reference to cannabis in the curriculum.  Dr Jeffrey Hergenrather, MD of California rightly stated that Cannabis does not have an advocate in medical training.  It should. Opportunity knocks.

Delegates heard heartbreaking testimonials from loved ones who spoke from lived experience as they recounted their very personal stories and the daily challenges they face in accessing medical cannabis via safe and affordable pathways.  The veteran community is heavily impacted with scores of returned service men and women in need of effective treatment options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Cannabis is a proven medicine.  I would go further and suggest that any of our front- line responders who dedicate their lives to serving  in the Emergency Services deserve access to medical cannabis as a treatment option when the need arises.

Compassion for those wanting to access medical cannabis is seriously lacking by our legislators. It need not be that way.  I wonder if our legislators had lived experience of combat, peacekeeping, responding to emergencies and caring for our communities, if their view of Medical Cannabis would be different? I suspect it would be.

Delegates heard from Senator Richard Di Natale who rightly stated that “forcing patients to act like criminals is the crime”.  Senator Di Natale again called for an amnesty and access to home grown Medical Cannabis. I welcome his move to introduce a Private Members Bill into the Parliament to effect this.

Barrister and writer Greg Barns believes that Medical Cannabis is a human right, yet in Australia it is still strangled by Commonwealth and State red tape. Former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and Barrister, Mick Palmer AO, told the audience that there is “lots of support across senior ranks of police for Medical Cannabis.”  So why is then that so many people are needlessly targeted by police, tying up resources which could be better used in real crime prevention and community engagement.  It was encouraging to learn that Greg Barns is currently exploring the option of a medical necessity defence for alternative (black) market healers.  Compassionate suppliers do genuinely meet an unmet need, albeit illegally under current law.

We heard of the incredible opportunities which exist for our aging population.  We learned about how creating environments in which people can thrive and “challenging the malignant philosophies” can deliver very different and positive outcomes in aging.  We learned that Medical Cannabis has a role to play, especially in alleviating chronic pain and other effects of aging.  The benefits to the economy in terms of the health budget alone are breathtaking.

Professor Simon Eckermann, Senior Professor of Health Economics at the Australian Health Services Research Institute and University of Wollongong has recently published Health Economics from Theory to Practice.  It includes full Medical Cannabis policy illustration.  This publication is a must for all Parliamentary Libraries and Health Policy units.  A preview can be found here:

The technical and scientific keynotes can’t be captured in the space of this blog but I’d encourage anyone wanting to know more to visit the UIC website in coming days and download the papers of interest.

For me the second to last word(s) comes from Justin Sinclair, Pharmacologist and Research Fellow at the National Institute of Complimentary Medicine house at Western Sydney University quoting Cicero “Salus populi suprema lex esto” which translates to “The health of the people should be the supreme law.”

The last word(s) are mine… Let’s find our bearings, look to the Sun and the stars if you must, but really you need not look further than the to the real and valid observations of those who work in this space. It is those observations and lived experience which should ultimately inform Medical Cannabis policy.

A note of gratitude and much respect to UIC Executive Director Lucy Haslam who believes that once you understand the benefits of Medical Cannabis and its potential to relieve suffering, you cannot hold on to views that were born of the “war on drugs.” Lucy rightly predicts that Cannabis will one day be viewed as a ‘wonder drug’ and hopes that mothers and nurses can lead the revolution. 

Lucy is but one strong voice, together we are many. Whist we do have an access framework in place it is cumbersome and access is also cost prohibitive. If you want to help it is quite simple.  Please add your voice by lobbying your local Member of Parliament (State & Federal) and together let’s work for safe, affordable and simple access to Medical Cannabis. 

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