16th May 2017: Politicians and others lie through their teeth to stop patient access to medical pot
It’s appeared on this site before, the quote that is this article’s title. It’s taken from Granny Storm Crow’s List, a massive database detailing many of the thousands of trials and research projects demonstrating the clinical benefits of cannabis – and conveniently ignored by those who, for whatever reason, continue to oppose or impede its use as a medicine.
Sadly, it’s an axiom that’s turned out to be more than appropriate to the current situation here in Australia. For it seems that no sordid lie, no attempt to mislead the public and no shameful political maneuvering by Ministers and their bureaucracy, is too big or too small in what has become a full blown war against patients trying to obtain what for many is a life-saving treatment. Abetted by ‘pets’ in the media, the callous lengths to which the establishment is prepared to go to forestall a scintilla of progress in the space has, over the last few weeks and days, become brutally – and darkly – apparent.
The medical weed world exploded last week following a Senate Motion intended to give the terminally ill quick access to cannabis and cannabis products.
As we reported last Thursday (11th May) efforts by the Greens to disallow an amendment to the Therapeutic Goods Regulations was voted on which, had the outcome been positive, would have meant doctors were free to prescribe such medicine to the nation’s most vulnerable patients – those that are critically ill.
A last-minute decision by Labor to follow its conscience and vote with the Greens led individuals such as these as well as their carers and pressure groups to think they had won the day – that the Motion would indeed stand. That is until One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team shot it dead after the Government’s medical regulator the TGA intervened. The intention had been to restore the right of patients with life threatening conditions to fast-tracked access to pot under Category A of the TGA’s Special Access Scheme.
The right was removed last November, behind closed doors and by the use of a Statutory Instrument – meaning Parliament did not get to vote – by then-Health Minister Sussan Ley. She’d introduced changes which meant cannabis, and cannabis alone, would be omitted from the Category in question, leaving open only a second Category (‘B’) available to doctors and patients – a process that can take months to complete and is all but impossible to use. In effect this makes Australia the only country in the world in which medical cannabis is legal…but where no-one can actually get it. Some in the patient community even think the system has been ‘set up to fail’ – only a few dozen approvals via this route are believed to have been granted thus far.
In the end the Motion was tied 32-32 which meant that it was defeated as Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post later explained. Nonetheless a clearly incensed Greg Hunt, the Commonwealth Minister of Health, was enraged enough to react with an insult-filled, furious and breathtakingly dishonest tirade against Labor in an interview that night with the Courier Mail (behind paywall).
‘It is one of the most irresponsible and dangerous decisions by a leader of a major political party in decades,’ Hunt raved, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten the object of his untrammeled ire. And the article went on to claim the move ‘would have meant a patient with an Australian script for medicinal marijuana would have been able to personally import a “bag of weed” or hash from anywhere in the world.‘
In a diatribe more suited to Goebbels than a senior politician within a supposed liberal democracy, not one mention was made of the Special Access Scheme, its Category A or the people for whom the pathway is meant – those that are terminally sick. Instead it focused solely on the completely – and knowingly – untrue accusation by Hunt that people would be able freely to enter the country weighed down with pot – a lie so outrageous Pinnochio’s nasal proboscis would have seemed button-like compared to the Minister’s.
The ‘journalist’ behind it, one Renee Viellaris, proved, if nothing else, the adage that truth shouldn’t get in the way of a good story is alive and well in the Australian media. Quoting Hunt as insisting ‘Bill Shorten joined with the Greens to vote in favour of opening the floodgates for dangerous, unregulated drugs to come to Australia,’ it was difficult to find one sentence even resembling the truth anywhere in her 360 word-long jeremiad.
What she could of course have said is that in order to personally import cannabis under Category A, a patient (and one that is dying, to boot) would first have to get a prescription from an Australian doctor. Next they would need to fly to a country where the drug was fully legal (the US wouldn’t do because of its Federal law) and once there get a further prescription from a native medic for a locally regulated product before returning home with it along with the requisite paperwork. That is the fact of the matter – not the nightmare situation that ‘would have left Customs overwhelmed’ because ‘any Australian with a prescription…could have brought raw cannabis, hash or oil in for personal use,’ as Hunt and Viellaris would have readers believe.
The author even went as far as warning two deaths had been caused by a ‘deadly fungus‘ found in American pot. Quite why such a sentence was chucked in almost at random is open to speculation (actually, it isn’t – the same admonition is a known favourite of the Health Minister’s office).
In any case such perfidious tactics as these – rapidly becoming the go-to solution in the Canberra play-book when it comes to the issue of weed – were certainly matched for sheer chutzpah the day after the Senate vote with the outpourings from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
For an outfit that’s so diligently courted the ‘cannabis vote’, destroying hopes for easier availability of the drug for the terminally ill is known as shooting one’s self in the foot. On Friday (12th May) a fantasy-filled post and a live stream on Facebook from a State MP claiming the Green’s Motion was ‘cynical’ and a’desperate smokescreen’ added insult to injury, especially since its content was wholly untrue.
‘Currently Australian’s (sic) who receive permission from their doctor are granted access to medical cannabis in an average of 2 working days,’ Hanson’s Fabebook post said, surprising anyone who’s ever attempted to navigate the TGA’s horriffic Category B pathway, adding ‘the irresponsible legislation proposed by the Greens would have opened the floodgates and allowed massive unregulated, access to clinically unproven treatments‘. This second assertion might have come straight from the Minister’s lips – and likely it actually did – making one wonder what payback One Nation got in return for acting as stooges of Government. By the time she got round to suggesting ‘because of One Nation there are now 125 Australians who have already been granted access to medical cannabis, imported from Canada,’ activists were up in arms, remarking – among other things – that ‘Australia would like proof of the claims.‘
‘Give us details please, of these 120ish people that you’ve helped. What product did you help them get? How much did it cost them? How long did it take for approvals?‘ demanded one irate commentator, as if shouting into the void. Another said: ‘Not true Pauline, you just allowed your party to block urgent access to life saving medicine for patients like my son…patients have died waiting for the Category B access, in contrast to Category A access which Greens were trying to protect.‘ At time of writing (16th May) Hanson had yet to respond but by now must be highly concerned at having lost a not inconsiderable chunk of support and gained the revulsion of many.
Queensland MP Steve Dickson – who crossed the House from the Liberals to join One Nation allegedly over cannabis in January – managed to fan the flames further by live streaming on his Facebook page remarks to effect the Green’s motion had been a surprise to One Nation.
Perhaps not strangely, the video and accompanying viewers’ remarks have now been removed but it prompted comments from dozens of campaigners while Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s assistant Sophie Nicolle did likewise. All pointed out that far from being taken unawares, One Nation was given notice of the Motion several months previously and the Party had been repeatedly lobbied in efforts win its support.
No excuses or back-peddling now are likely to redeem Hanson or her familiars in the eyes of those fighting for access to medical weed.
Nor are these the only fibs those in the corridors of power have foisted on patients and just as importantly the Australian public at large as of late – far from it.
A couple of weeks ago – and to a pretty big fanfare – the ‘first legal commercial medical cannabis imports‘ were announced to a largely unquestioning press.
What was not so widely discussed was the reaction from patients who said the various oils and tinctures that were allegedly available were vastly expensive, not equivalent to the medicines they were already using and that doctors weren’t terribly keen to prescribe them.
The imported decoctions were listed on the Office of Drug Control website though naturally no prices were given. One of the companies involved, Health House International, said all three products they were stocking would set you back $350 for a 60ml bottle while Tilray, another supplier, was far more circumspect in how much their items cost.
A company representative calling himself only ‘Tim’ told AMCSignpost ‘it could work out at $100 per month or $1000 per month depending on the product and how much you were using. TGA regulations prevent us from disclosing this information to patients.’
Both companies insist take-up has been good, with Tilray claiming to be providing ‘all of Australia’s medical cannabis patients’ and Health House that over a thousand enquiries were received immediately after the imports were disclosed. Neither however could or would say how many people have actually been supplied, but since the only means of obtaining such medicines are through the TGA’s Special Access Scheme Category B pathway the number is certain to be small.
Michael Lambert, a well-known campaigner whose daughter Katelyn has become a poster child for the medical cannabis cause told us the family needed up to 400mg daily of a high CBD oil as well as a medicine with TCH plus a full-spectrum hemp oil.
‘We’ve worked out it would cost us $140 per day to use the imported products,‘ he told us, ‘but none of them are full-spectrum and all our specialists are refusing to prescribe those with THC. It’s a joke.’
‘$350 for 60ml of what effectively is a tincture. Talk about a ripoff!‘ wrote another activist on the AMCSignpost Facebook page.
Carol Ireland of Epilepsy Action said some of her clients concurred, telling us one of them was desperate for a legal supply but had been faced with the three-fold problem. This was that – at $1700 per month – the price was simply preclusive, that no doctor would prescribe anyway and that his child’s existing (illicit) medication would first need to be tested to check the imports would work.
Because of issues like these and with the black market providing often high quality, reasonably standardised medicines (if with a vulnerable supply chain) and at a considerably lower cost than those that have been imported, patients are unlikely to migrate to a legal supply in the immediate future.
Whatever the cost of the black market though – and however effectively it’s servicing those who have come to rely on it – the unpleasant reality is that the public is being duped into thinking progress is being made with licit supplies while sick Australians are being denied access to a crucially important medicine – whatever the reason may be.
Even as the imports were being hailed in the press, compassionate supplier Jenny Hallam was in court for a preliminary hearing (4th May) after having been charged with serious drug offences for giving away cannabis oils to around 100 patients across the country. Ms Hallam’s home was raided by police in January – an action that was greeted with public outrage when it became known lives were being saved by her wares.
Flanked by supporters, including some of her ‘customers’, Ms Hallam’s appearance lasted five minutes pending a full hearing in June. She has said she will argue the charges are not in the public interest and believes she is being made an example of to deter other suppliers like her.
As if all this wasn’t enough, last weekend yet more falsehoods about ‘the pot-hole’ of pot were circulated by doctors specialising in pain medicine prior to a convention in Brisbane.
Dr Milton Cohen, of the Australian And New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, should have known better. Just a few months ago, the US Academy of Sciences published an over-arching review of the subject – the biggest of its kind undertaken. It said, among other things, and quoting directly, the following:
‘There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective:
:: For the treatment of chronic pain in adults (cannabis)
:: As anti-emetics in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (oral cannabinoids)
:: For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral cannabinoids).’
Not to be deterred in the least by the evidence though, here’s what Cohen’s press release dated Friday had to say:
‘Prescribing medicinal cannabis for patients with chronic non-cancer pain is not going to revolutionise their treatment and should not be supported until there is substantial proof of its effectiveness, according to a leading pain specialist.
‘Professor Milton Cohen is presenting Medicinal cannabis for chronic non-cancer pain: promise or pothole? at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) annual scientific meeting in Brisbane on Saturday May 13.
“There is no reason to be enthusiastic about cannabinoids in the treatment of non-cancer related chronic pain,’’ Professor Cohen said.’
This shouldn’t however surprise. At the end of last year a Dr Chris Hayes from the same organisation argued a similar thing in the ANZCA bulletin, to be tackled down a month later by Professor Laurie Mather of Sydney University – one of the few pharmacologists in Australia actually to have studied the weed.
Unrepentant and regardless of Professor Mather’s expertise Hayes shot back then that ‘Community advocacy continues to call for compassionate access to medicinal cannabis for people suffering chronic non-cancer pain. The call is based largely on anecdotal reports.’
He later echoed similar sentiments in newspaper editorials around the country with headlines like ‘Hunter pain specialist questions why introducing medicinal cannabis is being rushed with so little evidence.’
Shortly after these were published Hayes was invited to join the Government’s powerful ‘Advisory Council‘ on medical cannabis alongside a handpicked selection of equally anti-pot thought-leaders and propagandists discussed in some detail by this website in February.
Such deceit and deception by the Government and others provides an idea of what patients and advocates face in a moral and philosophical argument everyone thought had been resolved during 2015. At that time a Federal Public Inquiry into a Bill that would have created a specialist, stand-alone regulator for the plant heard from hundreds of experts and individuals while pulling the subject to bits. The Senate Committee responsible found the Government’s existing regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, wasn’t geared up to handle a medicine like this. It’s regulatory system is based on Big Pharma’s model of creating drugs using a single molecule for a single purpose – something unsuited to a chemically rich and complex plant such as cannabis.
But Ministers were not persuaded, instead turning matters over to bureaucrats with no expertise in the matter while relentlessly propagating the myth that sick Australians can now obtain medical pot.
Meanwhile, in a Universe far, far away, the village of Nimbin in NSW is clearing up after its 25th Mardi Grass Festival.
For those that don’t know, this is a three-day-long ‘protest‘ at the now somewhat archaic and largely discredited approach taken by the Authorities toward the herb generally, and its medical use in particular.
Here party-goers and politicians, doctors, patients, activists and advocates gathered in large numbers to celebrate and share what was in many cases a profound knowledge of the cannabis plant together with its manifold properties.
Amidst music of many varieties, brightly attired conformists and non-conformists of all shapes and ages from a multitude of nationalities and ethnicities, a sort of joyous dissent was danced, smoked and shouted throughout the entire weekend, often from the ‘Hemp Embassy’ rooftop – an institution that for years has been the hub of cannabis legal reform in Australia. Some pictures of the event can be found here.
The politicians, pen-pushers and conservative medics that are so hindering the development of genuine ‘cannabis medicine’ could do worse than attending the thing – not just because they’d discover a wealth of information and practice well beyond anything they’re likely to have previously encountered, but frankly because of the sheer decency of the folk they’d run into while at the affair.
Inclusivity at the event was effortless and (in the best sense) completely unthinking. Difference – between age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, race or nationality – was seen, if at all, as completely irrelevant, yet diversity was still to be celebrated – a wonderful circle to square if say you’re a Government concerned with equality.
Where medical cannabis itself was concerned, so compelling were the arguments, so inspiring the real cases of those telling their stories, it was impossible to come away feeling anything other than completely energised by the potential of this fascinating and much fought-over item of flora.
What’s indisputable though, however one might agree or disagree with the above observations, is that a strong, vibrant, financially viable and in many ways clinically successful medical cannabis industry is up and running in this country already – whether ‘they‘ like it or not.
And it won’t just go away. Too much knowledge has been acquired, too much effort spent and too many lives ‘miraculously’ improved to imagine people will consider stopping what they’re doing now.
Obvious too is the vast and rapidly widening chasm between Government and this ‘alternative’ (and completely illegal) community of growers and manufacturers collectively known as ‘the Healers’ who serve an increasing demand from the thousands of patients a great swathe of whom appear, visibly, to be getting better.
By ignoring such individuals, many of them prepared to face prison for the ‘crime’ of trying to stay well, the Authorities just make matters worse, for themselves as well as the people concerned. And they miss what might be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to study an extremely promising area – that of cannabis therapeutics.
With the catch-cry of ‘Better to be illegally alive than legally dead‘, this burgeoning confederacy will not – and in many cases, for fear of death, cannot – give up its medicine. And to persecute those involved for it could prove a costly mistake.
Already there’s much talk ‘on the ground’ of calling the Government to account through the courts – several families are known to be consulting with lawyers to explore the viability of turning the tables and bringing legal action as opposed to defending it. Other high profile cases meanwhile, such as those of Jenny Hallam and Michael Lambert, will only serve to focus public attention on what, at present, is an unmitigated policy disaster.
As all this foments just below the surface of public awareness, those involved with the underground industry are becoming not just impatient with Canberra but utterly disgusted and disillusioned with it, readying themselves to abandon entirely further attempts to engage and hold dialogue. Instead they will concentrate on building, improving and sustaining a clandestine, provisional and entirely alternate healthcare system while they wait for the Authorities to catch up – and will probably be blessed by most voters for doing so.
Present at Mardi Grass were a number politicians from the Greens and a couple of micro-parties, including, not least, Derryn Hinch.
Speaking on the panel events arranged to discuss the problem, the consensus was that Ministers would need to be forced into acting before they were likely to budge.
‘The police, Big Pharma and the coal mining industry get whatever they ask for,’ Senator David Leyonhjelm – a long-time cannabis proponent -told a noticeably choleric throng, ‘you have every right to be angry.’
The sentiment was echoed by his party colleague, Liberal Democrat President and ‘cowboy rocker’ Gabe Buckley who called for acts of civil disobedience, noting how ridiculous it was to ‘lock people away for just for gardening’.
‘First and foremost,’ he said, activists and campaigners ‘need to understand the language of politics and the law better than the politicians do themselves. And bring litigation. There’s a lot of money at stake – in politics and elsewhere – and many in the black market are desperate to maintain prohibition while lobbyists are incredibly powerful.’
Hinch, who spoke in the Senate debate about Category A last week and specifically mentioned what he had seen at Nimbin, was equally outraged. This week he spilled the beans about what had gone on that day in Parliament.
‘Don’t let Hanson off the hook over this. PHON and the X team succumbed to bullshit lobbying from Attorney-General George Brandis’ office, who tried to sway me before the vote by claiming their opposition was solely to protect local growers!‘ he said.
‘To be fair, Labor, at the last minute, agreed to support The Greens and the Justice Party (Hinch’s own). Although, I suspect they voted ‘Yes’ because they had counted the numbers and knew ‘No’ would win. It gets that cynical in Canberra.
But, and let’s get this on the record, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation did not. Neither did the Nick Xenaphon Team. Nor newcomer independent Lucy Gichuhi, nor Cory Bernardi. The vote was tied at 32-32 which meant it failed. And hundreds, thousands, of young and old Australians – some with brain cancer – will needlessly suffer‘.
On cue, the Australian Medical Cannabis Users Association pressure group is calling for further public demonstrations following a series of headline-grabbing rallies earlier on in the year while seasoned campaigner Lucy Haslam of advocacy organisation United in Compassion has ‘slammed’ last Thursday’s vote as she finishes arrangements for a third Medical Cannabis Symposium in Melbourne toward the end of next month.
Many pundits are now saying progress with the difficult journey that the matter of medical weed has been proving will likely now be found at State rather than Federal level, and that doctors will provide the key. An appearance at the Symposium of the RACGP is therefore to be seriously welcomed. This is especially true if a proposed discussion about convening an Australian Chapter of the Cannabis Clinicians Society takes place alongside the first Medical Cannabis Course designed by UIC’s Dr David Caldicott.
Interesting too will be what the TGA has to say, especially after last week – there exists a real possibility the event may yield a few breakthroughs yet.
If it doesn’t, the black market is doing just fine – thanks, for the most part, to Government.