PM, NSW govt lead campaign to legalise cannabis

18 September, 2014

The push to have medical cannabis legalised for terminally ill patients has regained momentum across the nation with various state and federal MPs rallying for existing laws to be changed.

Chief among them, PM Tony Abbott voiced his advocacy in a letter which was recently made public by talkback radio host Alan Jones. Jones read out the letter during his breakfast program on 2GB on Wednesday (17 September).

Abbott: 'valid medical grounds'

Abbott wrote in a letter dated August 23: "I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates.

"I was under the impression that the personal use of cannabis was no longer an offence in NSW.

"If a drug is needed for a valid medicinal purpose though and is being administered safely there should be no question of its legality. And if a drug that is proven to be safe abroad is needed here it should be available.

"I agree that the regulation of medicines is a thicket of complexity, bureaucracy and corporate and institutional self interest.

"My basic contention is that something that has been found to be safe in a reliable jurisdiction shouldn't need to be tested again here."

Peace of mind for patients, carers

The NSW government recently approved a clinical trial for its use.

NSW Premier Mike Baird recently told parliament he was moved by the case of a terminally ill 24-year-old man from Tamworth, Daniel Hasam, who was recently diagnosed with bowel cancer and found solace in using the drug to counteract the harsh effects of chemotherapy.

"Why not take a stance to say to the rest of the country, this matters. It's time we did something about it," Baird said.

"So I say at the same time, we want to give the terminally ill and those around them, their carers, their family, greater peace of mind.

"We also want to ensure that carers aren't forced to watch their loved ones suffer when their pain can be alleviated."

More knowledge needed on best use

The NSW government's move was praised by health lobby group AMA (NSW), although AMA (NSW) President Saxon Smith said more research was needed into the possible harmful side-effects it could have.

"Of all the methods that were on the cards to allow terminally ill patients to access cannabis, medical trials were always the best option," Dr Smith said.

"This will give people safe access to a potential new treatment and at the same time remove any stigma of criminality from their use of cannabis.

"We really have to define further what part of the plant is beneficial for certain conditions.

"Cannabis contains a variety of chemicals that affect the human body in different ways.

"For example, some chemicals within the cannabis plant have shown promise in treating acute forms of epilepsy.

"However, one of the worst things you can do for someone with epilepsy is give them raw marijuana.

"In addition, it will provide a way for information about the use of cannabis in a clinical setting to contribute to the body of knowledge currently available on the drug.

"Under a medical trial, supply of cannabis can be regulated, legal and administered with the support of doctors and other health professionals.

"It's also important to make the distinction between using cannabis as a medical treatment and using it as a recreational drug.

"There are significant health risks associated with using marijuana, as well as additional potential for harm when smoking it.

"Using cannabis as a medical treatment, on the other hand, is about isolating the chemicals with potential use as medicines and identifying how they can help patients."