Justice for Jenny

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 eyes. 

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 direction. 

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:

http://www.courts.sa.gov.au/SentencingRemarks/Pages/lightbox.aspx?IsDlg=1&Filter=8517

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 side effects. 

Other therapies and prescription medications were described by a treating doctor as “sub-optimally effective, and not without side effects.”

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 overseas.”

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 scripts.”

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 opioids.

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.

https://ama.com.au/ausmed/upcoming-changes-opioid-prescriptions

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 deaths

“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.”

https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2018~Main%20Features~Opioid-induced%20deaths%20in%20Australia~10000

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 account.

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.”

Adjourned 10.45am

My conclusion

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 every word.

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 jurisdictions. 

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 remarks. 

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 Compassion
  • 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.”

Professor McGregor 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.

Another Lambert 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 simply unaffordable.

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.

Professor McGregor 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.

Medicinal Cannabis – some useful links

For me, this weekend has been both inspiring and hugely frustrating. Many people have been brave enough to share their personal stories with me and some with the wider audience during the panel sessions.

I say again…..personal narratives are powerful instruments of change.

As introduced during the various sessions, my advocacy for better patient access pathways to Medicinal Cannabis is well regarded and wide-ranging throughout South Australia and beyond.

I receive contacts, not dissimilar to those received this weekend, regularly. It is a telling sign of the society we live in when there are so many people who may benefit from Medicinal Cannabis therapy and yet affordable and simple access is all but unreachable.

For the record – I am not able to provide ‘advice’, nor am I qualified to. That said, I can share information I have gathered/learned so that you may make your own choices.

Some background

For those of you who don’t know what started my advocacy, here is the back story. There is always a back story.

When my father was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer about 12 years ago – it was not operable and metastasised to his bones – he died in September 2009. It was during that time I started my quest for better treatment options for him during the palliative time.

Cannabis was an option but accessing it was futile and it was a criminal act to access it. Not much has changed – though legal now – the patient access pathways are cumbersome and expensive and medical professionals are mostly uneducated and unwilling to consider cannabis as an option.

Not putting too finer a point on it, the lead up to his death was painful and we lost him long before he died thanks to the opiates he was prescribed for pain relief – he was mostly so sedated he couldn’t communicate and all activities of daily living were done for him by my sister, my mother and I.

An undignified death for a dignified man. My fight for better access to Cannabis is both personal and ongoing.

Fast forward to 2019

Whist there is a Federal legal framework (from 2016) for access to Medical Cannabis the States/Territories have the responsibility for regulation.
As I mentioned above, safe, affordable patient access pathways remain the challenge.

Here are some useful links

If you go decide to venture down the legal path it may be useful to review this link: http://www.integrativehealthsolutions.com.au/2017/10/03/patient-pathway-to-access-medicinal-cannabis/

This is the most recent guidance from the TGA https://www.tga.gov.au/medicinal-cannabis-guidance-documents/

Here is some info regarding access in our State (SA). The challenge will be to find a doctor willing to prescribe.

https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/health+topics/health+conditions+prevention+and+treatment/medicines/medicinal+cannabis/medicinal+cannabis+patient+access+in+south+australia

There are many resources available and this is one I often refer people to https://grannystormcrowslist.wordpress.com/the-list/

Simply search for the diagnosed the condition/s and a range of link will come up – ranging from studies to scholarly articles.

United in Compassion – this extract is from the UIC Website. Please take a dip into the site in an effort to understand Dan’s story and the incredible work this organisation is undertaking. I have nothing but pure respect and admiration for Lucy Haslam and her team.
https://unitedincompassion.com.au/

Our philosophy is the dignified alleviation of suffering with compassion & empathy according to ‘Dan’s Test’

Our primary mission is advocating for patient access to Full Spectrum herbal Medicinal Cannabis extracts and dried herb Cannabis; in a manner which is safe, effective, affordable, equitable and favorable for patients, for the dignified relief of suffering.

Dan’s test – sets high quality product expectations, that are legally and easily accessible to patients when they need it, with no one left behind :

  • Equitable and favorable for patients
  • Naturally outdoor/greenhouse grown herbal Medicinal Cannabis
  • Organic principles.
  • Incorporates a wide range of herbal Medicinal Cannabis varieties, to treat a wide range of health conditions.
  • Full Spectrum plant extraction processes.
  • Dried Herb (Cannabis floral clusters); for use in electric personal vaporisation devices. 
  • Ensures high standards of production & manufacturing, by employing the principles of Quality Assurance

Dan Haslam was instrumental in bringing the issue of the therapeutic use of herbal Medicinal Cannabis to the forefront and into the national Australian consciousness. Dan benefited dramatically from his use of local Australian grown herbal medicinal varieties of Cannabis, during his battle with cancer.

Dan passed away on the 24th of February 2015, but his legacy lives on. “Every step we take on Medical Cannabis, will be built on the footsteps Dan Haslam left behind” Mike Baird – Premier of New South Wales

UIC supported the making of the documentary High As Mike.

If you wish to host a screening of this most compelling documentary visit FanForce to learn how:
https://fan-force.com/films/high-as-mike/

For those of you who saw the doco in Adelaide you would have come to understand that many people can benefit from Cannabis therapy.

From this weekend alone, it was clear to me that many people are either accessing the alternative market (with risk) or going without, too frightened to run the risk of becoming tangled in the criminal justice system. Sadly, too many are dying waiting.

It is understood about 1 million Australians have turned to the alternative market in Australia, a market which is estimated to be worth $4.5Billion in Australia each year. It does make you think!

I hope one day, in the not too distant future, the landscape is very different.

Be an advocate – tell your story – Don’t raise your voice, simply improve your argument.

Strength to each and every one of you.

Yours sincerely

Dianah 💚💚💚

Narungga Votes

First Published March 2018

In conversation with FX Medicine‘s Andrew Whitfield-Cook at the United in Compassion Medicinal Cannabis Symposium last week, I spoke of an exercise I undertook during the last SA State Election and how I put questions to candidates and then published responses…I’ve republished my blog…..here’s a look back.

At this year’s Federal Election I would encourage you to do the same and participate in democracy and make your vote count…do you have questions of your candidates? Now’s the perfect time to ask…..feel free to use some of my questions or create your own… Make your vote count.

Introduction: It is no secret I have a keen interest in politics; locally, nationally and internationally.  For the most part my background is unremarkable, but I will say that from an early age I have been inquisitive and hugely interested in people, democracy and in my (our) environment and the environment.

Where I have found my understanding of issues to be limited or knowledge-gaps needing to be filled, I have sought answers.  Importantly, where a once tightly held view has been influenced by my new learnings, I have freely acknowledged and disclosed my change in view (Medical Cannabis being a case in point).

This piece is not written with the intent to influence your view but rather provide you with some insights to which you may or may not have regard to when you cast your precious vote on March 17.  Your vote.  Your view.

Campaigning commences: As the race for Narungga unfolded and the five candidates’ identities became known, I decided to contact them individually and pose the same set of questions.  The purpose of this exercise was to understand more about what motivated them to stand as candidates and to see if one had a point of difference which would cause me to place a number 1 alongside their name on election day.

More about the seat of Narungga (including key boundary changes compared to 2014) here: https://www.ecsa.sa.gov.au/electoral-districts/electoral-district-profiles?view=article&id=847:narungga

The list of the candidates, as they will appear on the ballot is at this link: https://www.ecsa.sa.gov.au/2018-state-election-narungga-electoral-district-candidates

The questions: I posed a suite of questions which I felt would dig a little deeper and garner more telling answers.  More telling than the approved words, which often are common threads in media pieces, as candidates go about spruiking Party positions.

Here are my questions. 

What motivates you?

What skillset would you bring to the office of Member for Narungga?

What do you see as the challenges for Narungga?

What are the opportunities?

What are your views on affordable and less cumbersome patient access pathways to Medical Cannabis?

What are your views on an industrial Hemp industry on the YP & how would you support local farmers?

What is it about your Leader that inspires you?

Justice reinvestment – The principles of a justice reinvestment approach include localism, community control and better cooperation between local services. These also align with what we know about human rights-based practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service delivery.  How would you better support Narungga’s First Peoples – particularly youth?

How would (insert Party) better support primary producers – markets/value adding etc?

Are you for or against Australia becoming a Republic?

Why should I vote for you?

I reached out to the candidates via various mediums including Social Media, (Facebook and Twitter) SMS, voice calls and email.

Of the five candidates, three engaged with me personally. 

You can read the unedited responses I was provided in writing at this link:

Table-of-Q–A_Narungga-candidates.pdf

My interactions with the Candidates

Liberal candidate. Fraser Ellis responded to my meeting request in a very timely fashion.  I met with him in person and we conversed over coffee as I put questions to him and he later followed up via email with additional detail.   Fraser has made several contacts with me after that first meeting and has clearly demonstrated a willingness to better understand some issues.

Greens candidate. Jason Swales responded to my email and whilst there was a delay to the timeframe given we were able to negotiate an extended deadline and his reply was provided.  His reply was written in consultation with his Party Office. Jason also took time out to call me personally and invited me to meet him on his patch at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula, an invitation I am yet to take up but am grateful of the offer.

SA Best candidate, Sam Davies communicated with me via email, SMS and voice calls.  I also attended, at Sam’s invitation, a SA Best Party event in Kadina where leader Nick Xenophon introduced Sam and formally launched his campaign.  SA Best Upper House candidates Sam Johnson and Andrea Madely were also in attendance. 

I did get an opportunity to ask a question at the forum, which I expressly directed to the candidate.  Sam started to respond however Mr Xenophon interjected and provided a broad response which, for me, diluted the opportunity for me to directly engage with the candidate.   It was also telling in that there were significant knowledge gaps for both Mr Xenophon and Sam in the areas of Medical Cannabis and Industrial Hemp.

Labor candidate, Doug Milera.  I initially reached out to Doug via his Facebook page (messenger) and received a SMS response and apologies for the delay in getting back to me.  I was invited to email him my questions, which I duly did, and he also offered an opportunity to meet him. 

Further attempts at communication seeking a meeting and/or response to my questions remain unanswered and I have had my access blocked via Messenger on the Doug Milera – Labor for Narungga Facebook page.

Australian Conservatives candidate Rebecca Hewett.  I made several attempts to obtain a contact number for Rebecca to arrange a time to meet her.  I was asked, via a third party to email my questions to the Australian Conservatives (SA Parliament) Media advisor which I duly did.   As a courtesy I also copied in Hon Robert Brokenshire MLC into the email. 

Mr Brokenshire made time to personally call me.  However, he did question my motives in wanting to meet with Rebecca and said that I could meet with her, but he would be present.  I explained my reasons for reaching out to the Narungga Candidates.  He offered some dates (6/7th March) and said he would come back to me with a time.  A follow up call has not been forthcoming and as at the time of publishing this piece I have not received a response to my questions either.  I understand that Rebecca was given my number and said she’d call me, I’d still be happy to take her call.

My conclusions: This exercise has been hugely informative for me.  It is interesting that my thoughts not only focussed on policies and party positions but also took into consideration personalities. 

For a local member to be effective, first and foremost they need to be accessible and respectful.  Whether in Government or in Opposition a local Member is there to serve his/her constituency. 

On any given day a constituent may make representation to his/her Member on a diverse range of matters.  Some matters may be very complex and sensitive, so for me, should I need to access my local Member I would have an expectation that I am treated respectfully, that I am listened to intently and that my issue or concern is taken seriously.

Based on this exercise there are two candidates with whom I would feel confident in making representation to.  Both Fraser and Jason (undoubtedly their communications styles are very different) gave me a sense that if I presented with an issue that my voice would be heard and that there would be a willingness to broker a solution for me and importantly, with me.

My vote

My views align with policies of the Centre-Left of the political spectrum blended with a shade of Green.

In terms of policies – at this election, the SA Greens and Dignity Party are clear winners.  From matters ranging from human rights, creating awareness and enshrining greater equity into law, better patient access pathways to medical cannabis, justice reinvestment and caring for our environment, (which without we would have no economy); they show leadership.

When voting in the electorate of Narungga I will be casting my number 1 preference with Jason Swales based on his Party’s policies and on Jason’s personal disposition. 

Even thought I do not agree with some of the Liberal Party’s positions, for instance their willingness to legislate to raise the maximum penalties for Cannabis possession from $500 to $2,000 (this is not, as they claim, aligned with community expectations) Fraser Ellis will receive my second preference because of his willingness to be an accessible member.

Although Doug Milera blocked me on Facebook, his Party’s policies mean I will be placing him third.

With a lack of policies in general and limited understanding of some of the issues I am known to advocate strongly for, I will be placing Sam Davies fourth; and the Australian Conservatives candidate Rebecca Hewett will be fifth on my ballot paper.

In the Legislative Council I plan to vote 1-12 below the line.

I will be starting with the Dignity Party.  Kelly Vincent’s outstanding 8-year term deserves another, as does Tammy Franks of the Greens.  Following voting for Kelly and Tammy and others on their ticket, I will continue to number my ballot paper below the line, selecting candidates from the Animal Justice Party and the Liberal Democrats (based on drug law reform policy) until 12 places are marked. 

Voting – some interesting facts: In Australia women who were British subjects, 21 years and older, only gained the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament in 1902. South Australia was a bit more progressive and allowed women to vote and stand for parliament in 1895.

Sadly, it wasn’t until 1962 that the right to vote in federal elections was granted to Australian Aboriginal women who, together with Australian Aboriginal men, had been specifically excluded from the franchise in Australia by the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902.

If you are unsure about how you can cast a valid vote, follow this link to learn more:

https://www.ecsa.sa.gov.au/voting/voting-at-the-state-election/how-to-complete-your-ballot-papers

My prediction for Narungga.  The Liberal Party will retain this seat.

However, I believe the margin (currently 14.1% in favour of the Liberal Party – Two Party Preferred – which does not take into account the SA Best factor) will receive a hammering.  

The margin may well be decreased to 5-6% largely due to what is expected to be strong polling by the SA Best Candidate. 

Making Narungga closer to marginal, if not marginal, would be a good outcome whichever way you look at it.

Closing remarks: I say emphatically to everyone, especially young people (those voting for the first time) you have the right and freedom to participate in this democracy, so do so.

Be informed.  Be motivated to make your vote count.

Your vote is a powerful and precious thing.

Foot note: I was employed by the Crown for four-and-a-half years (2009 – 2013) as Principal Assistant to Independent Member for Frome Geoff Brock MP.  In 2013 I ran as an Independent Senate Candidate. 

I have been an ally (for want of a better word) of several political figures, including Tammy Franks MLC, Kelly Vincent MLC and Kyam Maher MLC in my advocacy for Medical Cannabis and Drug Law Reform. Each Member from diverse and different Parties but each with progressive, people-focussed views.

I did consider running as an Independent Candidate for the Seat of Narungga at this election however a few factors meant that the timing simply wasn’t right for me.

Step up, not back. Cannabis Law Reform in South Australia

Increasingly, even though we have a legal framework to access Medical Cannabis, there are still significant challenges for health consumers in finding safe and affordable patient access pathways to Medical Cannabis.

Access to Medical Cannabis is a human right, yet in Australia it is still strangled by Commonwealth and State red tape.

Punitive measures rarely work, if at all.

Every day people are being forced to turn to the alternative (black) market to access cannabis for medical purposes. In doing so, they run the risk of being caught breaking the law in growing their own; or sourcing product of an inferior quality.

A Marshall Liberal Government wants to legislate to raise the maximum penalties for Cannabis possession from $500 to $2,000.

It believes that this is “keeping penalties in line with community expectations.”

How wrong can they be?

Former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and Barrister, Mick Palmer AO, has stated that there “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?

Personal narratives are powerful instruments of change. Respectful, lobbying and activism is a commanding way to be heard.

You don’t always have to raise your voice to be heard, it’s often those who are quietly spoken and considered in their approach who are listened to.

So, don’t raise your voice, improve your argument and lobby for Cannabis Law Reform which will benefit not harm our communities.

After you leave here today – continue the conversation – and tell your story to your local Member of Parliament.

Justin Sinclair, Pharmacologist and Research Fellow at the National Institute of Complimentary Medicine house at Western Sydney University quotes Cicero in getting his message across “Salus populi suprema lex esto” which translates to

“The health of the people should be the supreme law.”

We must let science and those with lived experience to ultimately inform evidenced based Medical and other Cannabis policy.

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: http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319506111

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 http://www.unitedincompassion.com.au/ 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. 

Cannabis – Sharing your lived experience

 

This weekend’s event, incorporating Adelaide’s Inaugural Hemp & Cannabis Expo would not have been possible without the tireless work of Alex & Allison Fragnito – I congratulate them for taking the initiative and I thank those who have embraced the opportunity to participate and share their passion and their vision for Cannabis and Hemp.

A narrative is a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

Everybody has a story to tell and when it comes to Cannabis, health and well-being for every positive story, there are many which don’t have happy endings.

It is my aim to empower you to have the courage to share your stories with those who can effect change. That is – those who make laws, our legislators, our Members of Parliament.

Personal narratives are powerful instruments of change.

Respectful, lobbying and activism is a commanding way to be heard.  You don’t always have to raise your voice to be heard, it’s often those who are quietly spoken and considered in their approach who are listened to.

There are so many stories untold and many yet to be created – let’s make them positive stories of recovery, cure, health & well-being.

Every day I hear that people don’t want to have to continue to break the law to access cannabis – so let’s be part of the movement that changes the law which opens the door much wider on safe and affordable access to cannabis.

Some History

Mankind has been purposefully consuming Cannabis to cure what ails them, for as long as the plant has been in use for agriculture. The earliest written records date back to around 2700BC, when Chinese physicians were recommending tea made from Cannabis leaves to treat ailments such as gout and diseases such as malaria.

It was also a constituent of what was thought to be the world’s first anaesthetic.  Western society did not realise its potential until the late 1700s. It was found to have many medicinal applications and became a common remedy for ailments ranging from asthma to yellow fever.

Hemp

Hemp, like Cannabis has a long history in mankind’s evolution. Fast forward to present day – The potential to support employment via regional cultivation, processing and manufacturing of Industrial Hemp is evident due to the multitude of end uses this ecologically and economically sustainable crop can offer.

I was delighted to learn that the first Industrial Hemp crops will be in the ground later this year, following the State Government’s approval of the first cultivation licenses.  Primary Industries & Regions SA (PIRSA) and the other client departments involved are to be congratulated for their part in supporting this process from its inception.

I am a strong proponent of the establishment and development of the industry in South Australia. The possibilities are endless, provided the formative industry is well supported and nature delivers optimal growing conditions. I applaud the primary producers who have recognised the immense potential of including Industrial Hemp into their cropping rotations.

It is important to remember Tammy Franks’ MLC (Greens) dedicated support in the South Australian Parliament and the introduction of her Bill in November 2016.

Just 12 months ago, on April 13, 2017, the Bill to allow for the cultivation of Industrial Hemp passed the State Parliament with the support of the State Government and the Opposition (now in Government) – all citing a win for jobs and the environment.  I would have to say a huge win.

I would be remiss of me not to recognised the advocacy of the Industrial Hemp Association of SA and its founder Teresa McDowell who said it has been her “life-long goal to see the emergence of the Industrial Hemp industry in this State”. 

The Government is stating that based on current predictions, it is anticipated that within five years an expanding industrial hemp industry in South Australia could have a farm gate value of $3 million a year.  I strongly believe that number will grow rapidly.

Cannabis Legalisation

This a bold and smart move by the Greens’ leader Richard di Natalie.  While Medical Cannabis is now technically legal in Australia we still have a long way to go to bring about safe and affordable patient access pathways.

I am hoping this plan to decriminalise and legalise Cannabis more broadly will motivate the Federal, State and Territory Governments to lift their game in the Medical Cannabis space too.

I have no affiliation to a political party, but I will state that I believe The Greens’ deserves to receive multi-partisan support.

If you had asked me 30 years ago, I would have been fiercely opposed any decrimilisation or legalisation of Cannabis. However, my mantra is now “Education is the Key” – I have taken the time to educate myself and the science is breathtaking.   This means that now my view is very far removed from that of the 80’s.

The war on drugs is futile. Drugs are a health and social issue. Dr Alex Wodak, AM who among other things, is the President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation has stated that “current drug policy is politically motivated and ultimately unsustainable”.  I must agree.

It is time to wake up Australia and develop and implement smart, pragmatic policies which will deliver better social, health and justice outcomes for Australians.

There is so much stigma surrounding Cannabis, much of it stemming from its prohibition in the 1930s and the unfounded claims about the plant.  There is still a lot of work to do to bring alignment between those who are opposed to legalisation and those who know and understand it is not a matter of if but when.  Regulation not only has the potential to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue but there are significant social, health and environmental benefits too.

So far this year, 1,590 Australians have been killed by alcohol and there have been zero deaths from Cannabis, ever.  In 2017 alcohol was attributed to 5,475 deaths in Australia. That’s 15 deaths every day and that doesn’t cover off on those living with chronic illness as a result of alcohol consumption.

So where to you fit into this picture?  It’s simple – I need you to tell your stories.

I say again -personal narratives are powerful instruments of change. Respectful, lobbying and activism is a commanding way to be heard.  You don’t always have to raise your voice to be heard, it’s often those who are quietly spoken and considered in their approach who are listened to.

Here are the links I demonstrated during my presentation.  Explore them in your own time.   Identify your Elected Members and share your story.

https://www.parliament.sa.gov.au/HOWDOI/Pages/FindmylocalMember.aspx

https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Guidelines_for_Contacting_Senators_and_Members

https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Parliamentarian_Search_Results?q=&sta=SA

https://www.parliament.sa.gov.au/Members/Pages/List%20of%20All%20Members.aspx by Electorate

https://www.parliament.sa.gov.au/Members/Ministers/Pages/Ministers.aspx

Our Government will tell us that we need more studies. In the case of Medical Cannabis there is robust scientific, peer reviewed evidence and more than 17,000 scholarly articles speak to its efficacy and still there are doubters. Future generations will wonder what all the fuss was about.  Granny Storm Crows List is a fabulous resource – take a dip.

https://grannystormcrowslist.wordpress.com/the-list/

Encountering resistance   – This is a useful document identifying the range of types of resistance, primarily to gender equality but has wider application, and ideas on what framing strategies to use.

https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/13-steps-to-tackle-gender-discrimination

Framing Equality – Gives ideas on framing social issues to win support.

http://www.equineteurope.org/Framing-Equality-Communication-Handbook-for-Equality-Bodies

How to talk about economics: A guide to changing the story

https://australianprogress.org.au/tag/guide/

You may also find some useful stuff on the New Economics website

http://neweconomics.org/

United in Compassion

https://www.unitedincompassion.com.au/2017-Symposium

http://adlrf.org.au/

Dr David Caldicott, Australian Medical Cannabis Observatory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meDlQ7Qow-A

http://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/anu-provides-australia-first-doctors%E2%80%99-workshop-on-medicinal-cannabis

The SA Offi e of Industrial Hemp & Medicinal Cannabis

https://statedevelopment.sa.gov.au/industry/office-of-industrial-hemp-and-medicinal-cannabis

The Office has been initiated by the Government of South Australia to support the establishment of medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp industries.

Acting as a single point of contact the Office will work with industry and across government to provide ongoing support and advice, particularly for new ventures in the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp or medicinal cannabis.

I have to say it was very disappointing that the Office was not represented at the Expo.

So, I will conclude where I began….personal narratives are powerful instruments of change.

Respectful, lobbying and activism is a commanding way to be heard.  You don’t always have to raise your voice to be heard, it’s often those who are quietly spoken and considered in their approach who are listened to.

There are so many stories untold and many yet to be created – let’s make them positive stories of recovery, cure, health & well-being.