Cannabis Use for Medical Purposes Adjournment Speech: Legislative Council 19/11/2013

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Delivered in the Legislative Council, November 19, 2013.

One year ago this week I successfully moved in this place for an inquiry to examine the efficacy and safety of cannabis for medical purposes. That inquiry reported in May and the Government delivered its formal response to the House last Friday. I did not serve on the inquiry, but I followed its proceedings with great interest. I was delighted that the members of that committee, representing five political parties, sought and achieved unanimity. Members resisted the urge to grandstand or to push the boat out too far, preferring to find consensus where it was possible and leave the report and its recommendations there.

I thought that was very wise. I thought that it established the necessary political cover for a conservative government to proceed with reform in this area. I regret that the Labor Government 10 years ago did not proceed when it was given an expert report recommending the limited use of cannabis for medical purposes. I refer to the expert report by Professor Wayne Hall, the chair of the Working Party on the Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes. There are now two substantial documents presented to the Government of New South Wales that I believe present a very strong case for reform in this area and for the highly regulated and very limited provision of cannabis to a very restricted group of patients for whom other medical treatments have proved to be ineffective.

The committee inquiry recommended unanimously that the Government amend legislation to allow the medical use of cannabis by patients with terminal illness and those who have moved from HIV infection to AIDS. Two of the principal researchers in this area, Dr Alex Wodak and Professor Laurence Mather, have written to me in the past couple of days in light of the response of the Minister for Health on behalf of the Government last Friday afternoon. I think they rebut many of the claims made by the Minister for Health in her response tabled in this House today. They demonstrate that scientific evidence that cannabis works for some conditions is now overwhelming.

The United States Institute of Medicine in 1999, the United Kingdom Select Committee on Science and Technology in 2001, together with the working party in New South Wales that I referred to earlier, have accepted that the evidence was strong. In 2009 a committee of the American Medical Association reviewed the evidence and recommended rescheduling cannabinoid-based medicines to allow their legal prescription in the United States of America. Almost a dozen countries now allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. That includes 20 States with more than half the population of the United States of America. I draw the attention of honourable members to comments made by former Prime Minister John Howard in 2003 where he said:

I am totally opposed to the decriminalisation of marijuana and I remain very strongly opposed to that. But you are dealing here with the relief of pain and suffering and essentially where people's quality of life has already been not only severely degraded but also potentially threatened. And in those circumstances it seems to me to be a proper human reaction to say if somebody who could be dying of cancer, whose pain could be relieved by marijuana, then I'm all in favour of it.

I agree with the Hon. John Howard on this matter.