MEDICINAL CANNABIS TRIALS MAY BE “OVER BUREAUCRATISED”
By Matthew Elmas
Medicinal cannabis advocates and drug law reform groups have warned that a medicinal cannabis trial recently given the green light by the Victorian Government will be overly regulated and cause many people to “fall through the cracks.”
The cannabis cultivation trial was announced by the Andrews Government in early October and will see the legalisation of locally manufactured cannabis for medicinal use by select people with severe medical conditions.
The Andrews Government has indicated that the trial could begin as soon as 2017, with those who suffer from severe symptoms associated with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS eligible to take part in the trial.
But whilst campaign groups have welcomed the move as a first step towards further drug law reform, they say there is a need to significantly expand the trial.
Mr Nick Wallis, a former state and federal candidate for the Australian Sex Party has warned that the trial may become over bureaucratised and lead to many people missing out on important treatment.
“I think that the biggest danger with this policy is that people and children in particular are going to fall through the cracks because it looks like its going to be too highly regulated… its been shown in Canada for example which has a similar scheme – that the over-bureaucratisation has meant that people who need to access it can’t access it, or that it’s a very lengthy process.
“It’s going to be far too focused on severity. It could just be chronic pains, but there are plenty of other things cannabis could be used for. It’s just about removing the stigma,” said Mr Wallis.
Under the initiative, the Victorian Government will oversee the cultivation of cannabis at a secure research facility before it is distributed in the form of tinctures, oils, sprays and capsules.
The trial has received bipartisan Commonwealth support, with the Turnbull Government expected to support an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs Act that would legalise the growing of marijuana for medicinal purposes later this year.
An independent advisory committee on medicinal cannabis will be established by the state government that will be tasked with providing advice about expanding eligibility in the future.
Mr Matt Riley, the leader of Free Cannabis Victoria, one of the state’s largest drug law reform campaign communities, says that the initiative is reinforcing prejudices against those not included in the trial.
“Medical marijuana became popular with activists because it provided a shield against the prejudice, however, I believe it has helped to reinforce the prejudice against those who have no note from the doctor,” said Mr Riley.
“Locally grown ‘medical marijuana’ is a step forward in some small way although I think we will need a strong 420 movement to counter and highlight the prejudice before full legalisation will be considered,” he added.
“I don’t like the term recreational so much. I prefer to see it all as cannabis use, no labels needed. Prohibition hurts people, how or why don’t change anything,” he added.
However Mr Geoff Munro, the National Policy Manager for the Australian Drug Foundation, says that access to cannabis needs to be conditional and approved by a medical specialist or physician.
“While we support using medicinal cannabis to reduce pain and suffering in a small population, we cannot ignore the strong evidence which shows it can damage mental health and cause harm.
“This move is about helping people who lack other alternatives and who suffer badly – it is not about giving people a legal high,” said Mr Munro in a press release congratulating the state government on the trial.
Matthew Elmas is a journalism student at La Trobe University. In his spare time he enjoys good books, great movies and thoughtful discussion. @mjelmas