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Medicinal Cannabis

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Tags: Medicinal Cannabis, Controlled Access Scheme, Health

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I will give my full response on the Premier's Address tomorrow, but I want to express relief on the part of every Tasmanian who has been wanting to see medicinal cannabis more freely available in this state that we now have some real progress on this very important medicine. Tasmanians who need medicinal cannabis - the parents of children with epilepsy, and people who have cancer, HIV and other pain-management issues - have been shut out of the medicinal cannabis scheme because a truly deeply conservative Health minister designed the scheme specifically to make it as restrictive as possible so that people simply could not access it.

We had a scheme in Tasmania which was called the controlled access scheme, but nobody could access it. If you talked to the parents, for example, of young people with epilepsy, there was this back-and-forth where it was very clear, for example, in the case of Lyn Cleaver and her son Jeremy, that the medicine Jem responded to was medicinal cannabis and yet that family was put through the wringer, given the run-around and shut out because the scheme was designed to shut them out.

Thank heavens, first of all, that Mr Ferguson is no longer the Health minister, because it would have implications for other areas of public policy too - for example access to reproductive services - because Mr Ferguson and a conservative bloc within the Health department refused to hear or see the evidence on the power of medicinal cannabis to ease pain and to heal. They would rather people who needed medicinal cannabis go down the mainstream medicine line and, in some cases, have some extremely intense medicines prescribed to them for conditions that would be substantially improved by access to medicinal cannabis.

In November 2014, I went to the first Australian medicinal cannabis symposium in Tamworth; it was organised by Lucy Haslam, the mother of the late Daniel Haslam, who needed medicinal cannabis because he had debilitating bowel cancer that took his life. At this symposium we heard from experts from all over the world. We heard that anyone who says there is no evidence of the efficacy of medicinal cannabis is simply not looking, and that is what we had in our previous Health minister and that little nub of conservative bureaucrats in the Health department.

For example, we heard about the nursing home administered by the Israeli ministry for health. This was the subject of a documentary made by Zac Kline and looked at the lives of 27 residents in that nursing home who were suffering from loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, insomnia, dementia, Parkinson's disease, inflammation, PTSD - you name it, this small cohort of people endured it - and when specifically individually tailored cannabis therapies were given to each of those 27 residents of the nursing home, within six months 39 conventional medications had been tossed out and across all that cohort of people symptoms had improved. The heavy painkillers were tossed out, as were the sleeping tablets and antipsychotics.

The antagonism towards the cannabis plant from conservative forces cannot be justified. Medicinal cannabis is an important medicine and people in Tasmania have been wanting it and asking for it for a long time - and they have been shut out.

This plant has approximately 400 different kinds of compounds in it. It is an almost miracle plant. Thank goodness the Premier and, I hope, the current Health minister, have had the courage to move past that conservatism and embrace this modern but ancient medicine, for the benefit of people in Tasmania who have been suffering.

I have a friend with a chronic pain condition, who had been on heavy duty painkillers for years. They found medicinal cannabis, and it worked for them; but they have to order from interstate. We are subjecting people in pain to a rigmarole; or else they give up and go to their GP for something like Endone or Tramadol.

Wouldn't we all prefer that people who are unwell are given access to a safe, legal cannabis product? And they will be able to do so, as a result of the change announced by the Premier - who has finally fixed the problem created by the previous health minister. From 1 July, those people will be able to go to their GP for a prescription and they will be able to go to any pharmacy in Tasmania to pick up their medicine.

What a great day, for Tasmanians who have been calling for this change for so long and to whom Mr Ferguson was wilfully deaf.