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Debate rages over implementation of medicinal marijuana in NSW

Medical cannabis to be trialled in NSW. Source: Medical Marijuana 411

Greens NSW MP John Kaye has announced he will be introducing his own legislation to parliament to challenge the government to take steps to broaden the availability of medicinal cannabis.

Mr Kaye has expressed his belief that medicinal cannabis should be available to those with debilitating conditions as well as chronic and terminal illnesses.

Mr Kaye has described the moves by the government last week as “small step” in the right direction towards legalising cannabis to help those suffering from cancer and HIV.

NSW Premier Mike Baird this week announced plans to introduce a Working Group that would oversee a clinical trial for medicinal cannabis use.

“We want the terminally ill to have greater peace of mind. We do not want carers having to watch their loved ones suffer when their distress could be alleviated,” Mr Baird said.

HIV advocacy group ACON supports the government’s actions.

“ACON believes that the use of cannabis may help people with terminal and chronic illnesses to alleviate some of the pain and other symptoms they experience,” said Acting ACON CEO Karen Price.

“Research shows that cannabis can be effective in reducing pain and increasing appetite, and ACON supports the availability of cannabis for medical use. The forthcoming trial represents a practical and compassionate approach, and we congratulate the government for responding in this way.”

The Premier also announced plans for new police guidelines, which would show discretion in not pursuing prosecution for people using cannabis to treat chronic illnesses.

Mr Kaye believes that the trial should not be restricted to people suffering only chronic illnesses, but should include other groups such as those with epilepsy.

“The problem with what the NSW government has done is that they have not done much at all. It doesn’t provide any legal protection for people with non-life threatening conditions and it certainly doesn’t provide a pathway forward, especially for people who are suffering from non-fatal illness.”

A spokesperson for the Premier said the medicinal marijuana trials are a significant step in providing the public with more knowledge of the benefits and risks of cannabis usage.

“A clinical trial is an important step so that we can better understand the role that cannabis can play in providing relief for patients suffering from a range of debilitating or terminal illnesses.”

The spokesperson did not give a time frame on the trials nor an estimate what the cost would be to the taxpayer.

“The Working Group that has been set up by the NSW Government to establish the clinical trial for medical cannabis is due to report back by the end of 2014.”

“The scope of the trial is to be defined by the NSW Government after consideration of the report from the Working Group. This includes funding arrangements.”

A 2004 report produced under the then NSW Labor Government highlighted the fact that financial cost would be a significant challenge to any cannabis trial program.

It said: “Experience overseas has shown that high costs are involved in setting up a program, particularly if the government supplies the product. Expenditure can become disproportionate when only a small percentage of the population using cannabis for medicinal purposes registers with the government scheme.”

It was reported last year that Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s preference for a cannabis based drug for medicinal use was Nabiximols, a drug which is estimated to cost $800 a month and is not currently on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

However, in 2013 an application to add the drug to the PBS was rejected.

In response, My Kaye will put forward his own legislation, which will privilege questions of speed and cost.

“I will be introducing my own legislation to challenge the government to do much more than what they have so far. I want to challenge the NSW Government to do the right thing by those who are suffering right now, and not into the distant future.”

Mr Kaye believes his legislation will offer a simple solution.

“Looking at getting a drug on PBS is a long process, in the meantime there are cheaper alternatives. We should be looking for the most cost effective way which might be the legalisation of crude cannabis which people are using already successfully to treat their conditions.”

“I suspect the most sensible thing to do is to recognise people are self-medicating already, and provide protection from prosecution, not leading it up to the discretion of police.”

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