Growing support for medical cannabis

Laws allowing terminally ill patients to use cannabis could be passed in NSW within two months following support from senior cabinet ministers and the backing of Australia’s largest medical unions and the Cancer Council.


Nationals MP Kevin Anderson will introduce a private members’ bill to the NSW Parliament in August, which if widely supported would allow dying patients across the state to legally access the drug.

Mr Anderson has outlined his proposal to Premier Mike Baird, Attorney-General Brad Hazzard and Health Minister Jillian Skinner, who on Monday said she supported ongoing clinical trials of medical cannabis in NSW and Tasmania.

“I’ve been encouraged by the support of my parliamentary colleagues,” Mr Anderson told AAP on Monday.

“Their support is predicated on the bill being for people with a terminal illness only.”

Mr Anderson said Mr Baird raised issues about the supply and manufacture of cannabis during the pair’s meeting.

But the Tamworth MP said if his bill addressed those concerns he was confident of gaining Mr Baird and senior cabinet ministers’ firm support.

Mr Baird has said he will would give careful consideration to the bill, while Ms Skinner went further on Monday and said she supports two ongoing trials into the effectiveness of medical cannabis.

She said: “I am advised there is a proposal seeking approval to extract the non-hallucinogenic component from cannabis grown in Tasmania with a view to clinical trials to prove its safety and effectiveness. I support this approach.”

“I am also aware that there is a clinical trial underway in NSW using the pharmaceutical cannabis formulation and other research projects involving cannabis plants.”

Her comments come after the NSW Nursing and Midwives’ Association, which has 59,000 members, announced its support for medicinal cannabis to treat chronic pain.

Australia’s largest doctors’ union, the Australian Medical Association, has also acknowledged that cannabis has “therapeutic potential”

NSW branch president Dr Saxon Smith said more research was needed and that cannabis clearly does not benefit all patients.

“The tetrahydrocannabinol component makes epilepsy worse, whereas with other conditions that’s actually an important component to help alleviate some of the symptoms,” he told AAP.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation is reviewing research – including a 2013 NSW parliamentary committee recommendation that suggested AIDS and terminally-ill patients be allowed to possess and use up to 15g of dry cannabis – and expects to announce a formal position in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Cancer Council has reiterated its long-held support for medicinal cannabis, saying it “makes sense”.

“As an evidence-based organisation, we recognise the dangers associated with smoking of cannabis, and believe that it is balanced against the potential to relieve suffering when nothing else has worked,” said the council’s policy and advocacy manager, Anita Tang.