11th May 2017: Hanson the turn-coat leaves medical cannabis campaigners to rot

Senator Pauline Hanson, Senator for Queensland. Pauline Hanson's One Nation. 14 September 2016.  Image David Foote AUSPIC/DPS

It’s nothing short of complete treachery.

This afternoon, Pauline Hanson – a supposed supporter of medical weed – helped ensure dying patients would be denied access to the drug through the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Special Access Scheme ‘Category A’ pathway.

The Category is intended for the terminally ill and was specially created for speed and efficiency in delivering unregistered medicines to those with a short time to live.

But last November, behind closed doors and by the use of a Statutory Instrument – meaning Parliament did not get to vote – then-Health Minister Sussan Ley introduced changes which meant cannabis, and cannabis alone, would be removed from the Category leaving only a second option, the notoriously difficult to use and time consuming ‘Category B’ available to doctors and patients. It’s a process can take months to complete and one some in the patient community think has been ‘set up to fail’ – only a few dozen approvals for the medicine via such a route are believed to have been granted thus far.

The vote brings to an end months of hard campaigning by advocacy groups who’d worked tirelessly to persuade first the Greens and then – at the last minute – Labor to table and support a Motion to Disallow the regulatory changes Sussan Ley had made. Had it succeeded Category A patients would have been able to obtain cannabis medicines quickly and easily – a door that has now been slammed shut.

Until the 11th hour Labor – on advice from the Government’s medical regulator the TGA – had vowed to vote with the Government but after a flurry of behind-the-scenes emails and phone calls with patient groups agreed to support the Greens – thought to be the first time the Party has defied TGA mandarins.

By mid-afternoon, just prior to the vote at 4pm, campaigners thought they had bagged victory but were left stunned after One Nation Senators and Nick Xenophon suddenly flipped to vote with the Government after making a back-stage deal. Both had long said they would support Senator Richard Di Natale’s Motion, and Pauline Hanson in particular has gained much political capital by espousing the cannabis cause. Her reputation among patients is certain to be left now in tatters.

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