9th January 2018: Revolt about to happen over 'despicable' handling of medical cannabis
The announcement last week was expected. Medicinal cannabis, the public was told, could now be grown in Australia for export. And though not an especial surprise – the TGA/ODC website had been hinting at the move for some time – for many the news was still shocking. At a time when tens, if not hundreds of thousands of patients are left suffering and dying at home, growers, it would seem, can now produce crops for abroad.
The development – an insult and kick in the guts to sick Australians and their carers and advocates – must surely now demonstrate, beyond any measure or doubt a single and incontrovertible fact.
Which is that the medicine must, as a matter of absolute urgency, be removed from the demonstrably incapable hands of Therapeutic Goods Administration, finally and once and for all. The Federal Medical Regulator has – along with the State & Territory Health Departments’ own additional and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy – quite simply buggered things up. Almost single-handedly and frankly with malice aforethought, the organisation has wreaked total havoc in a space that was supposed to allow patients access to what for many is a life-saving drug. And it has ensured the exponential growth of an un-taxed, unregulated underground market – one ‘of uncertain provenance’ as a commentator recently put it.
The media circus following the exports announcement – and the activitsts’ outcry – was instant.
No wonder. With a minuscule number of patients – less than 350 by the Government’s own reckoning – accessing cannabis legally, allowing this country’s nascent ‘industry’ to cultivate for the purpose of export is shamelessly and cold-bloodedly rubbing salt into an already open and highly inflamed wound.
‘Medicinal cannabis exports approved in bid to expand Australian market,’ announced the Courier Mail while the Australian gushed ‘Door opens for medicinal cannabis exports‘ along with the even more enthusiastic ‘Marijuana stocks skyrocket, set to ‘lead world’ after export approval‘ from the Sydney Morning Herald.
Just a day earlier this website had roundly criticised the so-called ‘Medical Cannabis Council’ a self-appointed body set up purportedly to lobby for ‘the industry’ parts of which are currently enjoying buoyant market caps and share prices on the Australian Stock Exchange, not least as a result of the news.
This ‘Council’ had, only 24 hours before, been laying out the case to allow such exports while those needing it here in Australia could basically rot. It came just a couple of weeks after online ‘newspaper’ The New Daily pointed out – correctly – that ‘Australia faces massive oversupply of medicinal marijuana.’
‘Of course, if the state government loosened up their prescription approval process, then more patients could gain access through the various pathways for unapproved medicines, but that’s for another time,’ chirped the said ‘Cannabis Council’ – to the general revulsion of everyone dying to get it.
But the real anger, the turbo-charged fury and loathing witnessed across social media if not so much in the press was reserved for Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and his mandarins, whose narrative now seems to have settled on trying to argue that just under 350 people is ‘progress’ and that no barriers exist for doctors who may wish to prescribe – thus shifting the blame to medicos.
This lie is particularly egregious as dozens of GPs have testified, and as absurd as the assertion in the recently published ‘Guidances‘ for medicinal cannabis that – get this! – there were ‘no conclusions on the potential of cannabinoids to increase appetite…‘ Such imbecility is pretty spectacular, even for the Reefer Madness-type intellectual mercenaries chosen by the TGA to author each of the seven pamphlets involved. Is there a single person living who’s not heard of the munchies? Does the Government take people for absolute cretins?
Where the exports themselves are concerned, while patients and advocates exploded in a frenzy of rage and disgust, businessman Barry Lambert, the Chairman of hemp growing firm Ecofibre and a long-time campaigner for cannabis, greeted Hunt’s edict with scorn. It was, he told the Australian Financial Review, ‘Fake News’ and companies here would be uncompetitive. ‘There aren’t any real Australian growers at the moment,’ Lambert said to AMCSignpost, ‘just a lot of licences and promises but there’s no domestic market at all. So there’s no basis to saying Australia’s going to be a world leader. It still lacks an industry here. Other parts of the world are much more developed; they’re not going to let a PR campaign like this dislodge their dominance. Social media and the internet is full of CBD / Hemp Extract and demand is growing very rapidly. In the USA, CBD will soon be a a common as orange juice and no one will pay Big Pharma for what they can buy more cheaply‘.
Such a prediction is not without foundation given the latest thinking from the World Health Organisation which has said it believes hemp / CBD products should be freely available and unscheduled.
Pharmacognosist and cannabis researcher-cum-advocate Justin Sinclair however was slightly more circumspect, given Australia is already seen as a world leader in the regulation of high quality pharmaceutical and herbal products. Couple this with increasing demand internationally, and he sees the issue of quality being a significant competitor to a purely cost-based model.
‘It’s true the bar is set high,’ he told us, ‘and that will certainly have an effect on eventual cost since it’s so expensive not only to apply for and obtain a Federal cultivation licence, but then to adhere to the onerous security and quality assurance regulations. However, Australia is recognised world-wide for having some of the strictest rules for production of, among other things, herbal medicines. The flow-on effects of this is that our products are globally renowned as the market has great confidence in our quality assurance practices… and these same quality standards are of course being applied to medicinal cannabis. It’s like the difference between buying a second hand Hyundai or Kia or a top-of-the-range BMW. So it may turn out there might be a market based on quality rather than cost, but we won’t know until this is tested.‘
If and how this will happen at all though remains for the moment a guess, particularly given a number of the Australian ‘hopefuls’ are known not to have any seed and that finding a legal supply could be tricky. Well known hemp grower Andrew Kavasilas – whose own company was bought by mining firm Queensland Bauxite – warned the ABC that ‘there were only a small number of companies in the world that own a lawful source of cannabis, approved for scientific and medical research under international drug conventions,’ adding ‘there really is that bottleneck at the very top, all around the world, where researchers are in need of a lawful source of cannabis to do any kind of research so they can do clinical trials.’
What patients do know though is – whatever the practicalities – the Government is singing two songs and employing the most outrageous of dual standards.
On the one had – per the ‘Guidances’ mentioned above – it continues to cite ‘lack of evidence’ and ‘safety concerns’ for why cannabis remains unsuitable as a medicine in Australia while on the other it seems perfectly content to flog the stuff to whomever it can overseas. ‘Either it is or it isn’t ‘unsafe’, either there is or there isn’t enough evidence,‘ one advocate said. ‘What they’re doing is just reprehensible.’
Meanwhile, 2018 is already shaping up as a hot year on the cannabis front, and by that we don’t mean the weather.
Already a small handful of court cases are lined up in which ‘medical necessity’ will be used in not guilty pleas for a variety of medical pot charges while the Greens appear to be readying themselves for a push to end prohibition outright. ‘Let’s make 2018 the year we legalise weed‘ said Party Leader Richard Di Natale in a tweet just a few days prior to Christmas.
On top of this it looks suspiciously as though Murdoch’s News Corp is – as an organisation – taking a more progressive view of the matter. Only recently the Telegraph ran a series of stories excoriating the Federal and State Governments for the way they’ve been dealing with things while the News.com.au website featured an editorial by Matthew Dunn, its Technology Editor, calling for a blanket end to prohibition. It was followed by a selection of readers’ comments, the vast majority in support of the article, with those against so ridiculous the authors in question could easily compete with TGA or Greg Hunt’s office for the sheer ludicrousness of their folly, to wit:
‘whats (sic) next legalise heroin? pot smokers are drug addicts – they steal to pay for their habit and most pot smokers go onto harder drugs , the only ones who are pushing to legalise this are the drug addicts themselves – time to take a close look at the ones campaigning to legalise this drug – this drug alters your brain and the people using it drive whilst under its mind altering influence – not to mention they start to think aliens are all around them and even think their friends are aliens with magic powers etc etc etc and long term they get dumber and dumber and everyone who has watched a pot smoker for 20 years knows this to be true‘
Then only last Sunday, many of the Murdoch papers ran with the highly sympathetic story that ‘Man believes adults should be given access to legal weed‘ (again by the same Matthew Dunn) which told of the plight of a chronic pain sufferer living in Queensland.
‘Even though he wasn’t growing to sell, he was caught in possession of a single cannabis plant and seeds. As a result he says his career and reputation are in tatters, even though he believes it was the system that let him down and forced him to grow his own cannabis,’ said the piece, which is worth a read in its entirety.
To cap it all, just today (9th January) the Telegraph’s Annabel Hennesy once again wrote a blistering article, including within it a letter Tony Abbott wrote to Greg Hunt on behalf of UIC’s Lucy Haslam.
Titled ‘Abbott goes into bat for cannabis’ it discussed (again) how Health NSW was continuing to delay applications from doctors and said Hunt admitted things needed streamlining at State level. This was taken from Hunt’s letter to Abbott which was penned as a result of Lucy contacting the former Prime Minister’s wife just before Christmas – Margie Abbott is a UIC Patron.
The three page response – which, like the Telegraph, AMCSignpost has also obtained – is of interest (and can be downloaded here), being both critical of Lucy and other advocate while stressing ‘safety’ and ‘lack of evidence’ as well as repeating the usual untruths. The TGA is ‘routinely approving applications in one working day or less‘ said the missive, while boasting ‘around 230 approvals were granted in 2017‘.
From it, it is clear the Health Minister and his Department are simply doubling down their previous positions while maneuvering much of the responsibility onto doctors as well as patients themselves: ‘The real problem is that some advocates believe that if an individual patient decides that they need medicinal cannabis, they should automatically get it. The government did not commit to allowing anyone that decided they need medicinal cannabis automatic access but rather established a framework that regulated medicinal cannabis as a medicine and that allows all patients that need it, as determined by good medical opinion, could obtain it….The system is delivering on that commitment…‘.
You can decide for yourself what to make of the rest, but Lucy was needless to say less than happy, telling BuzzFeed yesterday (8th January) the exports announcement was ‘despicable’.
To make matters worse, again yesterday, Dr Teresa Towpik, the GP turned cannabis activist whose battles with NSW Health first caught the attention of the Daily Telegraph discovered that – post the November announcement of a $3 million grant to set up a ‘hotline’ to facilitate easier prescriptions in the State – no-one has as yet lifted a finger.
‘I rang Louisa Wright – NSW policy adviser this morning,’ Dr Towpik said. ‘It is 8th of January now. The hotline is not active yet and it is not known when it is going to be active.
‘Louisa wasn’t able to tell me in detail how it is going to operate and what medical conditions are likely to be approved.
‘It appears that NSW Health made this announcement in November just to please the public but they have no idea how to go about it.’
So as ever, with an intransigent and dishonest Minister and ill-equipped, uncaring bureaucrats running the show the debacle is set to continue – the growing black market left to meet the needs of thousands of desperate patients, the elephant very much still in the room.
It’s a murky area too, as another recent article in The New Daily made abundantly clear in a report published last Friday (5th January) titled ‘Contaminants detected in unlicensed cannabis oil products‘ discussing a ‘trade’ it described as ‘repugnant’.
Suffering through all this of course remain people – sick ones, hopeless and despairing ones, reliant on the drug some of them to stay alive.
People like Tasmania’s Lyn Cleaver and her 26 year old son Jeremy, whose picture, when aged six, appears at the top of this page.
Writing yesterday on Facebook, and addressing the politicians and bureaucrats who’ve stood in the way of Jeremy getting a legal supply of a medicine that quite literally stands between him and a premature death, Lyn said the following:
Tomorrow, January 8, marks the twenty year anniversary of when Jeremy contracted an unknown virus that derailed his entire life. A virus that very nearly killed him.
I can’t say it has been easy, ever. It has been incredibly difficult for him and those of us who love him to see him suffer so much.
There have been thousands of seizures, many injuries, many failed medicines and much harm caused to him by drugs that were neither safe nor effective.
He has been battling for his life, every day since he was six years old.
His brothers have never known a ‘normal’ life.
As hard as it has been, we are blessed beyond belief. We have each other, our family and our friends.
And finally we have found a medicine that is both effective and safe.
We hurtled head long into a battle for cannabis with the government four years ago. That battle has meant that much of our time has been caught up in this ludicrous fight for cannabis to be accepted and widely available to all who suffer.
We have spent hours watching politicians, listening to politicians, and talking to them. Submissions, letters and supporting bills that protect patients – and where are we?
Jeremy’s health has not been that great this last year. Should we have to waste more time to fight for cannabis because that means it is less time spent with him and our family? But if we give up now, we fail Jeremy and we fail those who come behind him.
To those of you who may be reading this as legislators please act on behalf of those who need better cannabis reform.
This last year we witnessed the whole parliament tip to virtually one side in support of same sex marriage.
Can we please remember this fight is about sick and dying Australians. It isn’t about celebrations of any kind. Sick, suffering people who are waiting for you to do better, to care enough to pull cannabis reform together that actually helps people.
If we have learnt anything in the last twenty years it is that you cannot give up, you have to keep fighting. But when you are fighting for your life is it right that you should also have to beg your government for a safe and effective medicine?
I don’t think so.
We all have seen so many advocates fight until their death, how many more is acceptable before we have legislation that benefits Australians?
Please make 2018 the year this changes so the sick and dying can concentrate on what they need to rather than begging politicians.
There’s little that can be added to that.