13th April 2017: Compassionate supplier charged, important case looms; MC patient testimonials, offers to undergo study
Today we publish an item some may think controversial. We do so after much deliberation and with the assistance of those involved – and have presented the Commonwealth Department of Health with the same information, together with one or two questions.
As the struggle over medical cannabis intensifies and patients find themselves increasingly on the periphery of a debate in which their role should be central, we reproduce – with thanks – a selection of (anonymised) testimonials from individuals using medicines sourced from an (obviously illicit) supplier.
The document is being made available after the debacle that is this country’s ‘system’ for medical pot took a darker turn at the end of last week when a ‘compassionate supplier’ of such products was formally charged by police. It followed a raid on her home near Adelaide in early January, an action that caused immediate outrage from the media and public alike.
Jenny Hallam had been giving her oils away free to around 100 patients throughout the country. They included Ben Oakley, the medical cannabis ‘poster child’ who suffers from the agonising and life-threatening Stiff Person Syndrome. Ben famously met with then NSW Premier Mike Baird to discuss his predicament last year and was left stranded after the raid on Ms Hallam. Another of her ‘customers’ reportedly died.
Last Friday (7th April) she was called to Gawler police station, SA, where she was charged with possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply as well as the manufacture of a controlled drug. The second charge is considered a major offence and carries a minimum seven year jail term. The maximum sentence is life.
The testimonials we publish – which are not related in any way to Ms Hallam – provide yet another example (if more such examples are needed) of the absurdity of the current situation in Australia and how the law, rather than protecting people, is actually risking (and perhaps even costing) their lives. They can be placed alongside the 29 brave individuals who came forward and identified themselves as medical cannabis users on the #GreenlightSupport website earlier on in the year.
First though, an obvious disclaimer is necessary.
The document – which can be downloaded here – is for reference purposes only. We’re not making claims about the efficacy of such medicine and do not suggest that ‘cannabis cures cancer’ (though many of the individuals who write are indeed cancer patients). Nor do we or would we suggest patients attempt to use it as an alternative to formal advice from a qualified medical practitioner. We’re simply sharing what a number of sick people have written about their experiences and ask readers to view it as such.
With that said, we understand both some of the patients involved and their supplier would, under the right circumstances, be prepared to come forward for observational research and allow their medicines to be tested and analysed. With an opportunity like this being offered, Ministers and others are in fact being asked to pick up a gauntlet.
Can they really dismiss such material as ‘anecdotal’ or of no value when the subjects are willing to submit themselves to medical and scientific scrutiny?
And after reading what has been said can they honestly continue to argue these people should be viewed and treated as criminals?
Speaking in a video shot outside the police station and posted on her Facebook page Ms Hallam asked ‘the ladies at Northfield Prison’ to ‘save a spot’ for her and said ‘this Government is going to prosecute someone for trying to save people’s lives‘.
In what can be seen as another, different, challenge to Authorities she added ‘I don’t care if I go to jail, they’re not going to stop me doing what I’m doing, I’m going to be out there screaming even louder.‘ And she called on users of medical cannabis to stand up in support. ‘It’s time for you guys to get involved too,‘ she said, writing later that she believed the more serious charge might be dropped prior to her court appearance on 4th May.
Posting on his Facebook page Ben Oakley said: ‘Unfortunately I found out yesterday that the truly incredible and outright hero, Jenny Hallam, the one who has saved my life has been formally laid with charges.
‘I cannot fathom the fact that someone who is saving lives regardless of the consequences is being prosecuted as a result. Generally….if someone were to go above and beyond to help you or save your life, you would consider them a hero. In some cases, they would receive a medal. I truly wish that were the case. Stop punishing those who are doing what the Australian Governments aren’t!‘
The charges came just two days before SBS screened ‘A Life Of Its Own – The Truth About Medical Marijuana‘ on national television – a documentary by former Channel 7 anchorwoman Helen Kapalos. Ms Kapalos, who self-funded the film released on DVD late last year, became enthralled by the subject after making the critical Sunday Night TV programme in 2014 which thrust pot high onto the public agenda. Viewing figures Sunday we’ve learned were outstanding, indicating the public remains as interested and onside as ever.
Eleven days earlier people gathered in Sydney at a NSW Government-sponsored Forum at which speakers from Israel, Canada, The Netherlands and Germany discussed their own medical cannabis schemes with an audience of around 100.
In particular they heard talks from two Israeli visitors, Professor Afek Arnon and Mr Landschaft Yuva who heads up that country’s Medical Cannabis Unit. They spoke of how, in Israel, symptoms not diseases were treated and how the country was building the evidence as it went along. Compassion was central to everything and – significantly – a random controlled trial using the drug to treat epilepsy in children had been stopped because it was obvious which patients were receiving the medication. ‘As soon as we saw what was happening, we just gave them all cannabis,’ Mr Yuva said at the Forum.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration was there too, the Government’s powerful medical regulator which is now firmly in charge of the plant’s cultivation and use. It insisted, regardless of all that was said, that Australia’s system had so far been ‘victorious’, despite it being the only one in the world attempting a pharmaceutical model.
During a panel session the overseas speakers were asked what they might learn and take home from their visit. The Forum fell deathly silent, attendees perhaps too polite to say Australia currently provides, if anything, a superb example of exactly how not to do things.
Meanwhile, Lucy Haslam, founder of advocacy group United in Compassion and perhaps this country’s most prominent medical cannabis campaigner has been busy planning her organisations third Symposium scheduled for late June in Melbourne (brochure here). At the event once more speakers from across the globe will share their knowledge and experience using the plant – with tremendous success – as a medicine.
Alongside are two other initiatives aimed at educating doctors – obviously key stake-holders in Australia’s cannabis journey. One of them, a course created by UIC’s Dr David Caldicott who also runs the evidence-collecting Medical Cannabis Observatory, will be launched at the above-mentioned event. The other is a roadshow of seminars by the WA-based Medical Cannabis Research (brochure here): this starts in May. Both are without doubt much-needed.
Elsewhere however, as this website has reported previously, some of the country’s most outspoken ‘cannabis critics’ have been appointed to conduct an ‘evidence review‘ and write clinical guidelines for use of the drug based on out-of-date information. Others of a similar ilk have been asked to join a late-coming ‘expert’ Advisory Council. But so unlikely (and antithetical to cannabis) are some of the characters involved, the story reads like a work of comic fiction, if one with a queasy twist.
Keen to get an idea of how such a body came to be thus constituted we put in an FOIA request to the TGA asking for ‘copies of briefs, meeting notes, correspondence, determinations and other such documents‘ relating to the appointments. A reply was received yesterday claiming this would take 77 man hours to process and cost nearly $1,500. This has been queried and we’ll keep readers updated.
Some of the ‘naysayers’ that make up the Council together with ultra-conservative medicos who continue to cite ‘lack of evidence’ from randomised controlled trials for their violently anti-weed stances attended the NSW Forum, making it a room that was divided in two. Others of course recognised that in an imperfect world its often necessary to make the best of what’s available if it is helping the sick – while the research is conducted.
But such a division perhaps represents a microcosm of a bigger picture, with patients, advocacy groups, much of the media and no little expert opinion ranged against some in the medical profession, bureaucrats and various career propagandists as well as, almost certainly, large drug companies desperate either to kill or control cannabis medicine.
Currently, it’s the latter camp which prevails, regardless of the fact that Israel is storming ahead in the global medical cannabis market with extensive research into various strains of the plant and patients are numbered in tens of thousands.
Here they’re left out on a limb with only a tiny few managing to get prescribed cannabis products and others, as News.com.au reported, being told it could cost them $ thousands once a prescription is written.
Others still, like Jenny Hallam and those providing the testimonials remain criminals while the disconnect between the Government and sick Australians & their advocates appears to be widening.
The day she was charged, Jenny Hallam again wrote on Facebook in a most interesting post.
‘Just had a GP call me to discuss Medicinal Cannabis,’ she said, ‘he’s extremely supportive of it but has said Drs who do aren’t treated very well at all.‘
‘In fact,’ she continued, ‘most are keeping quiet about their support for fear of losing their jobs.’
‘Really?‘ she stormed. ‘Still? When the govt keeps telling us it’s available and we just need to talk to our Drs.‘
And she went on to describe how the same individual told her about how closely pharmaceutical companies monitor the sales of their drugs and question GPs if they drop.
‘So basically, doctors are being PRESSURED by big pharma to keep prescribing their crap,’ she wrote, adding the medic concerned firmly believed drug companies were ‘DEFINITELY‘ trying to stop cannabis legalisation and that he saw ‘the Turnbull family’s involvement in the industry as a conflict of interest.‘
Though this isn’t exactly news – in January AMCSignpost did a round-up of stories how Big Pharma is both fightened of, and sees potential profits in the cannabis market – if doctors themselves are genuinely being frightened off cannabis, the matter needs urgent attention.
And if politicians and others are, as seems to be the case, doubling down on their now firmly entrenched position they are certainly in for a challenge.
As one activist told us recently: ‘What’s really needed is an Australian Sanjay Gupta‘ meaning the American doctor and CNN’s chief medical correspondent who, in 2013, very publicly apologised to the entire nation for getting things wrong about cannabis. In 2009 he’d penned an article for Time Magazine called ‘Why I Would Vote No On Pot‘ but Dr Gupta subsequently wrote: ‘I am here to apologise. I apologise because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.’ And he went on to admit: ‘We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years…and I apologise for my own role in that.‘
But the unfortunate truth is, we don’t have a Sanjay Gupta so the testimonials we today publish, and cases like Jenny Hallam’s will have to serve to shed light on what is becoming no less than a policy scandal.
Little could express this better than one of the out-takes from Ms Kapalos’s documentary – Michelle and Jai’s Story.
Featuring a mother and her little boy desperately fighting a battle with intractable seizures that were threatening his life daily, and with cannabis the one thing that worked, these are the kinds of people the Government would potentially have thrown in jail.
Today we have asked the Health Minister and his Department for comment.
We’ll publish their response once received.