Michelle Lensink

Controlled Substances (Palliative Use Of Cannabis) Amendment Bill

This speech indicates that the Liberal Party will not be supporting the Controlled Substances (Palliative Use Of Cannabis) Amendment Bill. This bill proposes that fines be waived for the personal cultivation and use of marijuana for people suffering designated medical conditions on the proviso that a medical practitioner has signed a palliative cannabis certificate to indicate that that person is suffering from a specified illness or disease.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (01:00): This bill, which was introduced by my colleague the Hon. Sandra Kanck, proposes that fines be waived for the personal cultivation and use of marijuana for people suffering designated medical conditions on the proviso that a medical practitioner has signed a palliative cannabis certificate to indicate that that person is suffering from a specified illness or disease.

I note that the use of cannabis for medical or any other purpose is currently prohibited in all Australian states and territories. There are a number of harmful effects of cannabis use, which are becoming much better understood as the research record continues, and these include effects on memory, learning and cognitive processes, short-term cardiovascular effects, long-term risks of bronchial disease and cancers, links to psychotic conditions in vulnerable individuals, drug dependency and impacts on the immune and reproductive systems.

There have been a number of reports released on the topic of palliative cannabis use in recent years and, of the two most cited in the literature, one was produced by the US Institute of Medicine, (IOM), and another by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology (SCOST). Both of these reports found that cannabinoids, which are the reactive chemicals in cannabis, have potential for use with certain medical conditions and that there is a need for further research on the clinical uses of crude cannabis plant products and cannabinoid compounds.

One of the reports, at least, also recommended that, while the results of research are awaited, cannabis should be made available on compassionate grounds to patients with a limited range of life-threatening and chronic health conditions such as HIV-related wasting, nausea caused by chemotherapy, neurological conditions and pain which is unrelieved by conventional analgesics. There has also been a report convened by the New South Wales government in 2001 which was largely in agreement with the other research projects to which I have referred.

The most serious problems associated with the palliative use of cannabis are caused by smoking, although the impacts of smoking occur on a medium to long-term basis so that if somebody has a terminal illness, that is probably not their chief concern. Locally, at least, a report was prepared by Drug and Alcohol Services (DASSA) in 1998 which concluded that the greatest potential for medical use of cannabis is as an appetite stimulant, in management of neuropathic pain and for quick relief of nausea associated with some cancer chemotherapy treatments.

I have received correspondence from various individuals on this issue urging us to support their use of cannabis as the only means by which their symptoms can be relieved. However, I think that we do need to be led by the evidence and there clearly is not enough evidence at this stage that would ensure that the negative impacts of cannabis are not promulgated on the rest of our community, because there are very serious impacts indeed.

I am sure that I will get a reaction from the honourable mover of this bill when I state that when things are legal it sends a very clear message to the community as to its use. I would just like to back this up with an example in relation to alcohol consumption. I think young people understand very clearly that, because it is illegal to drink-drive—apart from the odd offender, who is very much in the minority—they just do not do that these days, whereas clearly a number of them drink to excess and get into other sorts of problems because there is no prevention of drinking to excess most of the time, unless it is on licensed premises where responsible alcohol service can monitor their behaviour.

We do need to be led by the medical fraternity on these issues, and the AMA in particular supports further research. However, I think that as a parliament we are unable to move on this issue until the research community has got some firmer evidence. On that basis, the Liberal Party will not be supporting this bill.

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