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Medical Cannabis Access Scheme and Legalisation

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Tags: Medicinal Cannabis, Drug Policy

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, the Greens welcome the Premier's announcement yesterday of improvements to the Medical Cannabis Access Scheme in Tasmania. As a party we have been calling for meaningful access to medical cannabis for many years and we have worked with so many passionate Tasmanians on the journey to reach this goal. I want to especially acknowledge Lyn Cleaver and her son Jeremy, Danielle Lateral , John Reeves, Peter Fielding and many others who have shared their stories and fought tirelessly for this change.

The highly controlled Medical Cannabis Access Scheme we have had in Tasmania to date has been profoundly unjust. It has resisted the medical evidence of safety, it is focused on theoretical or small risks, and it has missed the opportunity to provide effective treatment for people who are living in daily extreme pain. Since the Medical Cannabis Access Scheme started in 2017, scandalously only been 28 patients have been able to make it through to being considered, and just 17 of these were approved.

People struggling with chronic conditions, seizures and terminal illnesses have been forced to risk prosecution to access what is a known treatment now. GPs have needed to identify a relevant medical specialist who makes the application and that specialist has to apply on behalf of a patient to a secret panel in the Department of Health. Outrageously, there has been no transparency in that process and there is no avenue for appeal.

In 2018 state health ministers across Australia at Council of Australian Governments agreed to participate in a streamlined access system for medical cannabis within the federal Therapeutic Goods Administration. Michael Ferguson was the Health minister at the time and he chose to go against the medical evidence and against the sense and compassion that all the other states showed by refusing to allow Tasmanians to participate in the national scheme that every other Australian citizen was able to access. However, the Liberals have finally listened and it seems Tasmanians are now able to access medical cannabis through the national streamlined online application pathway administered by the TGA. GPs, it seems, will also be able to write prescriptions for medical cannabis, subject to TGA approval.

The Government needs to make sure at this point that there is a supply of quality and affordable medical cannabis products in Tasmania. We have heard of problems people have had in accessing them and in supporting local producers who want to supply a quality product to Tasmanians to use.

Madam Speaker, there is another aspect to this debate that the Liberals desperately need to address. We know cannabis prohibition has failed in Australia and around the world and countless thousands of people, including medical cannabis patients, have ended up with a criminal record simply for using a drug that causes very little harm. There has been an hysterical singling out of cannabis as a drug to criminalise and that has been entirely ideological. More and more countries around the world are realising the cost to their societies from that terribly damaging social experiment. It is well past time to legalise cannabis for personal use and that is happening worldwide - in the United States, Uruguay and Canada, and we have Mexico, Israel and Luxembourg also moving in that direction. Legalisation is the right approach.

We need a regulated market. It can provide the necessary health protections and would enable health warnings, advertising and sale restrictions. In 2017 the ACT government decriminalised personal cannabis use with some limitations. Their model was better than straight punitive prohibition but it still forces cannabis users to interact with the black market. That is why the Greens understand that we need to legalise cannabis and regulate it. The NSW Greens MP and drug law reform spokesperson Cate Faehrmann is going to bring a bill to legalise and regulate personal cannabis use in that state this year. The Tasmanian Government needs to start the conversation now about legalising and regulating the personal use of cannabis in Tasmania. It is well past time and the Greens will be backing any move by the state Government in this area fully and I am sure the vast majority of Tasmanians will be happy to see that day.