15th June 2018: An attempt at a helicopter view
A telling item appeared not long ago, buried deep in Australia’s business media. It came and went almost unnoticed, piquing the interest only of those upon whom it might impact directly plus a few nerdy types who relish this type of minutiae. In a way it was among the more logical pieces of news to emerge in a while in relation to medical weed.
‘THC has changed its mind on bringing cannabis clinics to Australia,’ it said, explaining how ASX-listed wannabe grower The Hydroponics Company (THC – geddit?) had ended a short-lived agreement with another (Canadian) outfit, this one called National Access Cannabis. Together, months earlier, the pair had announced the harebrained idea of opening a chain of clinics across the country at which, as they seem to be able to in Canada, happy patients could be treated quickly and easily with cannabis medicines by doctors with expertise in their use. At the time, THC’s share price predictably enjoyed a quite a fillip, but as soon as managers from the partnering company actually came here they ‘decided the Canadian system couldn’t work…under current regulations‘.
Couldn’t work under current regulations? You can certainly say that again. Australia has become the only country in the world to have legalised cannabis for medical purposes and then made sure virtually no-one can get it.
Because of this state of affairs, in reality a pitched battle between those who would and those who would not have this plant- in its natural, unprocessed form – introduced here as a medicine, we felt it was time to take stock. To take an overall look and try to sketch out of as much of what’s going on in this space as we could.
But doing so gets kind of complicated. The hows, whys and whats of a situation as byzantine as it is farcical, nonsensical as it is too often tragic, that kind of gordian knot (and it is one) well, it takes a bit of unravelling.
But people, some of them children, have died and continue to die; more still are having their lives ruined.
So the below, with apologies, is quite a long read. It kind of has to be if anything like an adequately rigorous account of this baffling and hugely frustrating drama is to be presented in a way it undoubtedly warrants. What follows isn’t by any means all of it, but is hopefully at least some sort of snapshot.
A lot’s happened and a lot is happening, even right now and even if it doesn’t, for most people, translate into, realistically, being any closer to obtaining the medicine they quite clearly need and want desperately. By exploring a few of the issues (and interests) involved, assessing what needs to be done and figuring out how to do it might be made fractionally easier. That’s the idea of it, anyway.
In the words of the Native American writer and poet Louise Erdrich ‘What happens when you let an unsatisfactory present go on long enough? It becomes your entire history.‘
ALTHOUGH they face powerful, frequently ruthless opposition, there are those in Australia determined to ensure that, where MC is concerned, what indeed is a very ‘unsatisfactory present’ becomes not an ‘entire history’, but an unpleasant glitch on the way toward genuine access to cannabis and cannabis medicines.
Fortunately, they have truth on their side.
Huge vested interests – many of them tied up with ‘research’ – are doing all they can to stop cannabis becoming mainstream or easily available, and thus far they’ve done pretty well. Out of a conservatively estimated 100,000 people using the stuff for that purpose here in this country only around 700 have managed to get a legal supply. And that’s for any cannabis-based product at all, including isolates and CBD oils (the ‘non-psychoactive’ stuff) – products that can be bought over the counter elsewhere. A minuscule number of patients have obtained the plant in its botanical form.
The answer is simple if slightly delusional, and it’s also propped up, essentially, on falseehoods.
Put in a sentence, and using the words of one Tasmanian politician who might have been speaking for many, ‘medicinal cannabis’ is only welcome by what one might call ‘the Establishment’ as long as it’s ‘regulated within the usual medical and pharmaceutical system‘.
We’ll get into this a bit later on.
For now, read the next three lines carefully:
‘Currently the majority of US Sates have one of the various legislative regimes to access medicinal cannabis for a range of conditions despite the inconclusive evidence base for safety and efficacy of cannabinoids for the majority of those conditions.’
If it sounds a bit suspect, it is. That sentence is taken from the first paragraph of a soon-to-be-published paper from the so-called ‘Australian Centre for Cannabinoid Clinical and Research Excellence‘ – a $ multi-million, Federally-funded establishment based at Newcastle University, NSW. In those few words is to be found much of the Centre’s rather expensive and dubious reason for being. And they just happen to be completely fictitious.
Rather than the ‘evidence base’ for the ‘efficacy and safety’ of cannabis being ‘inconclusive’ (their use of the word ‘cannabinoids’ is significant, but that we’ll leave until later as well), actually the opposite is true. Over thousands of years of known use (and with no deaths attributed to it) cannabis is one of the least toxic substances on Earth; even Australia’s own Health Department admits ‘ ..the toxic dose of THC in a 65kg adult would be 8.45kg.’ And where medicines are concerned it’s one of the safest, especially when compared to other drugs with infinitely more dangerous side effects. Just look in the literature or ask any of the millions of people who use it.
As for ‘efficacy’ – again, evidence for this can be found in abundance. There are now hundreds if not thousands of doctors seeing amazing results and treating innumerable patients. Some of these medics have even written whole books on it. The data and expertise is readily and widely available – and logically should be the staring point for further research. Instead, the ‘Centre of Excellence’ just pretends that it doesn’t exist. This in turn both gives the Centre a purpose (essentially re-inventing the wheel) while at the same time provides an excuse to prevent the medicine from becoming more widely adopted. It’s one of the Big Lies about medical cannabis and is literally a big con. In reality, there’s no good reason to stop patients having access to the product other than it might adversely affect research funding of outfits like the ‘Centre of Excellence’. One of its leading lights has even admitted as much.
INhindsight, this country’s dalliance with cannabis for medicinal purposes can be said to have fallen broadly into three phases. First was the massive campaign for legalisation – which happened in earnest towards the end of 2013. A groundswell of public and media support through the following two years saw the culmination of this effort with passage of the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act in February 2016. Next, throughout most of that year and the next, came the creation and implementation of a morass of TGA and State regulation that would govern how the drug was (or more accurately wasn’t) produced, for what and by whom – as well as the means by which patients could in theory get hold of it. It was during this time an ‘Expert Advisory Council‘ was formed, supposedly to offer input into policy-making around the area but comprising some of the most virulent and noteworthy opponents of cannabis in Australia, at least one of them with a reputation extending well beyond this country’s shores. Meanwhile none of the internationally renowned cannabinologists currently at work here (and there are a few) were invited to sit on the thing, which speaks volumes about the purpose for which it was convened. That chapter – ‘Phase Two’ – one could argue, ended in December 2017 when the Federal Government published a sort of ‘last word’ in its project to ‘regulate’ the drug – a series of ill-received ‘Clinical Guidances‘.
Supposedly created to inform doctors and others on practical use of the medicine, the documents were based on highly selective literature reviews – historical RCTs of cannabis products for various indications – which concluded little evidence existed in terms of efficacy: not really a shock, given the history of prohibition and thus difficulty in conducting research. Outrageously, the tracts in question also failed to include anything in the way of reference to the increasingly wide global clinical practice of cannabis medicine we’ve already talked about, or the similar expansion of demographic and prescribing data currently emerging in light of it. And needless to say, they contained little or nothing in the way of anything that might genuinely help guide prescribing. Possibly most indicative of all though, and as this site has pointed out previously, these ‘Guidances’ (if there actually is such a word) were all produced in this manner despite the fact that the TGA and others had been given an early English translation of the ‘Green Book‘ – an Israeli Ministry of Health-produced manual arguably the most practical prescribing guide in the world. The publication was literally placed in the hands of a TGA official by a member of an Israeli delegation during a visit to Australia in 2016. That means the Government had the thing in its possession well before its own tomes were written. As such then, the Australian documents – the items doctors are officially being urged to turn to if considering the prescribing of cannabis – in reality serve to inhibit rather than encourage its use. If you think you can smell a rat, it’s because you probably can. The authors were described by this website as ‘Foxes in Charge of the Cannabis Henhouse.’
Then came ‘phase three’ – the current one – in which all concerned found themselves trying to make sense of everything and discern how best to move forward and what to do next given the situation they’d been left with. Which isn’t, for many, a happy one.
The numbers have already been mentioned; out of (at least) 100,000 users, just 700 or so have been given a legal prescription – and included in those are patients in clinical trails and/or ‘compassionate access’ schemes. To give that some context, Germany, to take just one example, now has around 16,000 authorised users from next to zero in 2017 – a year after the law was changed in Australia.
It would hardly be unfair then if an outsider looking in were to conclude there are one or two few valuable lessons to be learned here – on how not to do medical cannabis.
The actual statistics – the clearest indication we have of what the complete picture looks like – are taken from the Office of Drug Control website (the ODC sits within Ausralia’s medical Regulator the TGA and looks after aspects of the plant’s regulation) and May’s Senates Estimates. They are these:
513 patient approvals have thus far been granted for some cannabis product or another (which ones aren’t publicly known) via the TGA’s exquisitely ill-suited ‘SAS Cat B’ pathway (of which a bit more further on). 33 ‘Authorised Prescribers’ have also been approved mainly for clinical trails but a few to allow ‘compassionate access.’ Most of the ‘Prescribers’ are working in paediatric epilepsy and cover 193 patients in all. The total – as of a fortnight ago – is 706 patients in total.
There are currently 34 clinical trials underway which, true to form , the ‘Expert Advisory Council’ believes will – wait for this – ‘contribute positively to the amount and quality of evidence to either support or contradict the use of medicinal cannabis as an approved treatment across a range of health conditions and symptoms,’ (our emboldenment). But since all the aforementioned exercises are believed to involve cannabinoid isolates or synthetic products – which to many is not what is meant by ‘medicinal cannabis’ at all – they’re likely to deliver less than outstanding outcomes, so beware. As aficionados will attest, plenty of evidence exists to suggest ‘whole-plant’ natural products are way more effective than synthetics or extracted single compounds alone, yet domestic trial results are pretty well certain to land the staggeringly hostile ‘Council’ with the ammunition it quite clearly seeks: to be able to say ‘cannabis’ isn’t very useful as a medicine.
An example of this sort of thing in action happened only last week when it was announced 13 out of the 34 children involved in Victoria’s access programme had pulled out, to cries from the State’s LNP Opposition that the Government was wasting its money. ‘Sick kids on state government’s medicinal cannabis trial abandoning treatment’ yelled Victorian Liberal Party house rag the Herald Sun (behind a paywall). It failed to mention the ‘treatment’ in question was an ultra-pure CBD product – an isolate in other words – sourced (at considerable expense) from a Canadian company.
Importantly though, the piece did also add that ‘some families have privately flagged returning to cannabis oil from the black market in a desperate bid to help their children.‘ And this tells us a very great deal – especially if you take into account results of a survey published last year by Epilepsy Action Australia: it showed nine out of ten of their clients who used (illegally sourced) cannabis found it worked better than other drugs. The moral here is that all too often ‘single-agent’ ‘cannabinoid medicines’ are wrongly (but often quite knowingly) conflated with ‘medical cannabis’ generally, thus does the baby find itself chucked out with the bathwater. Meanwhile an almost overwhelming volume of data pours in pretty much daily from across the world indicating huge breakthroughs in the use of the plant therapeutically – and, just like the ‘Centre of Excellence’, the ‘Council’ thumbs its nose at the lot of it.
At any rate, to service these clinical trials, Authorised Prescribers and just over 700 patients in all, no fewer than 29 commercial licences have been granted to wannabe growers and manufacturers -just five of whom now have permits to cultivate (two of whom are known, the Victoria-based Cann Group and Western Australia’s Little Green Pharma Co.).
In addition some two hundred companies have apparently expressed an interest in importing cannabis products for sale to Australian patients. One has told the TGA it can offer goods for around ¼ of the prices quoted by those whose wares currently grace the ODC website. (Amusing to note though if all 200 hundred are successful in obtaining these licences, it means, based on current figures, if the customer base were divided equally, they’d get roughly 3½ patients each).
IFthis sounds rather messy, then it is. What we have in Australia – a direct result of what’s been unspeakably dire public policy – is a shambolic and disordered patchwork. It includes entities public and private; regulation and legislation – existing and proposed; opinion – ideological, clinical, scientific; money and obviously power and politics. A chaos, in other words, and an absolute wreck. No wonder erstwhile ODC Head Bill Turner no longer remains in his post (he’s off doing something or another in the ‘Sports’ side these days we’re informed) though the circumstances of his leaving remain a matter of some speculation. His replacement is one Thomas Stoddart.
Not least in this mix though of course are the victims; sick Australians numbering tens if not hundreds of thousands who were promised a medicinal cannabis system yet fobbed off with a grotesque parody of one in its stead, still forced to rely on the black market while being criminalised in the process.
Reasons why have already been touched on – the ridiculous drive to try and create pharmaceutical drugs out of single cannabinoids, the plant’s main active ingredients.
Any number of experts warned years ago it was something that couldn’t be done – that cannabis, by dint of its complex chemical profile and the discovery that these compounds work best synergistically and in their natural state – wasn’t like other medicines and shouldn’t be treated as such. Few drug companies wanted to develop products from it anyway, the experts argued – they’d be far too difficult to patent. What was actually required, they said, was specialist cannabis regulator, as other jurisdictions like Canada, Israel and The Netherlands had created.
In 2015 the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee agreed as much, recommending Australia follow those nations’ leads after a lengthy and detailed Public Inquiry. But the Government had other ideas, taking its cue from conservatives within the medical profession along with, among others, those lobbying on behalf of Big Pharma or seeking research grants. It decided its existing medical regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration would take charge of medicinal cannabis.
What this immediately meant – as cogently explained in a recent paper by Caldicott, Eckermann et al – was that the vision and ambition became one of ‘medicinal cannabis’ being ‘developed as though it were best (and only) provided as a patented, single-agent therapy‘ for eventual inclusion within Australia’s medicines register the ARTG (‘just like all other medicines’). And this while ensuring access to the actual botanical product or whole-plant extracts remained as elusive and forbidden as ever. It’s another of the Big Lies about cannabis but a weltanschauung that’s shared by some powerful voices. The AMA for example and its present and immediate past Presidents are both vocal opponents of the plant being used in any form other than that described in the Caldicott/Eckeran paper. Most of the Royal Colleges with the notable exception of the RACGP think the same, as does ANZCA the pain specialists’ body which enjoys the largesse of elements within the pharmaceutical industry, especially the makers of opiates.
On top of these is the Government’s above-mentioned Advisory Council, created not to facilitate or ease the way for thee uptake of medicinal cannabis but to retard and obstruct it where possible. Big money is now being spent undertaking ‘cannabinoid’ research in Australia while the ‘Centre of Exellence’ – like the Advisory Council – is staffed with some very weird choices.
One of them, Jennifer Martin, was the individual referred to before – the one who argued against making cannabis too widely available because it would potentially clobber research grants. Martin herself is also obsessed with the plants ‘toxicity’ (when $ billions have been spent globally and found that it’s staggeringly low) while her colleague, Professor Jan Copeland, managed to canter through tens of millions of Australian taxpayer bucks running the now defunct National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre. It’s purpose is clear from the name. Only last week on Twitter, Copeland doubled down on what to normal folk might seem an outrageous, earlier claim – that ‘the burden of disease…due to cannabis use and dependence is estimated to be greater than that of HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C combined.’ ‘Prevalence’ was cited as ‘a clue’ to her reasons for saying so.
If it seems like a racket, it is. While individuals like Martin, Copeland and others might not be unduly helpful when it comes to the helping meet the need for medical weed, they’re masters at hustling for a different type of green altogether; the Government has given them $ millions.
SUCHin any case, are a few of the not insubstantial forces ranged in opposition to cannabis use as a medicine, at least in its natural form. And they’re what individuals and organisations with a differing view will have to contend with if they’re going to persuade politicians and the medical profession to become more accepting of the plant’s role in the physicians’ armementarium.
For now though, this drive for what might be termed ‘cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals’ could take years to fulfill if indeed it can be fulfilled at all – and in any case is likely to generate unwanted and expensive products which are sub-optimal when compared to the actual thing. As a stop gap the Government has allowed (albeit limited) access to imported unregistered products, but that’s hardly of very much help either. If it continues to do so , and gradually permits greater availability, then what little incentive did exist for companies to undergo the highly expensive and lengthy development process required for their goods to be registered on the ARTG completely evaporates anyway.
On the other hand, this difficult state of affairs also means companies can’t market whichever of their products they have made available because it’s illegal to do so for unregistered medicines. Nor can these item be made more affordable by inclusion on this country’s PBS which subsidises certain important drugs – but only if they’re ARTG-registered first. The net result is that patients are forced to bear the entire brunt of the cost of cannabis and cannabis products, which have repeatedly been shown by the media to be beyond what many can afford. Additionally, when ordering products, doctors (and in some cases patients) are forced to try and make sense of the hodgepodge of information currently on the ODC website – then ring up the businesses concerned to establish the cost of whatever concoction it is they estimate might be needed . After that they’ll need to find a pharmacy willing to stock it – requiring a further approval for the chemist concerned. Every which way that you look at it then, the ‘system’ is irredeemably flawed and ludicrously difficult to navigate.
MUCH of this, it goes without saying, is well-trodden turf to those who for the last few years have argued and agitated for the rules and regulations to change further – so they can obtain access to a drug that for many is a life and death matter, or for whom quality of life is severely diminished without it.
But as such individuals know only too well, the TGA has managed to get a stranglehold over both ends of the regulatory equation – being responsible not only for overseeing registration of prospective medicines but in large part on the way patients obtain unregistered products in the meantime. Although allegedly ‘streamlined’ in April by Health Minister Greg Hunt with the introduction of a proposed single application process (which thus far seems only to have taken effect in NSW according to a reply given at Senates Estimates) a two-tier (State and Federal) system of authorisation for prescriptions remains. This is in no small part due to the drug’s Scheduling since ‘cannabis’ is, somewhat irrationally, featured under no fewer than three headings in Australia’s SUSMP (‘Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons’) more widely known as the Poisons Standard.
These are, roughly speaking, Schedule 8 (‘Controlled) for THC-containing products and Schedule 4 (‘Prescription) for isolates of CBD. Unregulated cannabis remains Schedule 9 (‘Prohibited’). The TGA doubled down on this in the last week or so when it published an ‘interim decision‘ on amending the entries for cannabis and cannabinoids. Since Schedule 8 medicines require State approval and since only one cannabis-based medicine is registered for use in Australia (Sativex) all applications additionally need to get Federal go-ahead too.
For those that don’t know, this is obtained (when it can be) through the TGA’s Special Access Scheme (the SAS mentioned previously) a process grossly inappropriate for something like cannabis. The Scheme’s intent (and therefore design) is to provide a route for medical practitioners wishing to obtain drugs not registered for use in Australia but generally recognised overseas. As such it’s administered on a one-off, patient-by-patient basis for those with specific, often unusual, conditions. And in this case, the Scheme has proven totally unfit for purpose, because the plant as such isn’t registered anywhere. In the words of prominent researcher Nick Lintzeris, simply, the SAS ‘isn’t designed to upscale’ (e.g. make unregistered products more widely and generally available). It’s purpose, in other words, is the diametric opposite of what’s needed for cannabis – a medicine that has the potential (and demand) for extensive prescribing.
As we pointed out earlier, the only other means of obtaining the stuff is via clinical trails or through an Authorised Prescriber – all bar one of the latter, just to recap, were revealed recently to be themselves tied up with trials. And not only is Ethics Approval required for each Prescriber (and trial) but also for each indication to be treated with a cannabis product.
BUTit was also at Estimates – that traditional sporting event at which elected members get to prod and probe the Government’s most aphotic and sensitive parts – that a few glimmers of hope were to be found in the the otherwise dispiriting landscape so characteristic of medical weed.
The ‘cannabis session’ was two Wednesdays ago (30th April) and the Hansard is worth reading in full (which we’ve handily extracted so you can download it here). Takeaways though – the important and interesting ones and for brevity’s sake – are as follows:
:: The first GP to become an Authorised Prescriber has just been announced. The un-named individual is based in Victoria and was sanctioned by an Ethics Committee formed by the National Institute of Integrative Medicine. The Institute has also created its own medical cannabis course with accompanying CPD points for participating doctors and pharmacists. The first one took place in Melbourne in April with a second planned for Sydney in September. It begins to position doctors involved in the integrative and alternative healthcare space at the forefront of the gradual move towards cannabis medicine.
:: Health Minister Greg Hunt’s announcement about ‘streamlining’ applications is beginning to work in NSW where it was originally launched. Turnaround for prescriptions is now said to be 48 hours or less although other States, particularly Queensland (more later) and Tasmania are lagging due to existing legislation or schemes. ‘Minister Hunt has a very strong interest in this. In fact, I understand that the letters are up with his office to send to ministers, encouraging them to continue with this commitment,’ TGA Head John Skerritt told the Committee. NSW aside, others he said are ‘a work in progress,’ though where her own State was concerned, Tasmanian Senator Lisa Singh – a long-time advocate of MC – preferred the term ‘disadvantaged’ and moving ‘at a snail’s pace.‘ Though not mentioned at Estimates, word going round is that other States will have fallen into line with the single access process sometime in July, though many will believe that when they see it.
:: The TGA publicly attacked another cannabis course – this one by David Caldicott, a Professor at the ANU and a Consultant at Calgary Hospital. The event was backed by the ACT’s Heath Department but TGA Officials suggested the course – arguably the most intensive and clinically detailed of its type in the country – contained ‘factual errors’. Caldicott and ACT Health are understood to be holding ‘discussions’ with the Regulator over the allegations which were in any case unsubstantiated. If this all sounds rather nasty, it actually was – to outside observers more like petty revenge for the Professor’s past public criticisms of the ‘Guidances’ discussed above.
ON top of all this muddle and clouding the waters further still , no fewer than four pieces of legislation are currently before State and Federal Parliaments (three at Federal level the other in NSW). Though none looks likely to succeed, they do at least demonstrate at least some people get that Australia has a cannabis problem. One of Bills, the Green’s Medicinal Cannabis Legislation Amendment (Securing Patient Access) Bill was also raised in Estimates by its creator Richard di Natale. It’s purpose (which this website has discussed in detail here) was, Di Natale explained, to open up a second SAS pathway – Category A – so the terminally ill might have quick and easy access to cannabis or cannabis products. (For those that don’t know, the Category had specifically been closed off for cannabis – and cannabis alone it should be noted – by way of Statutory Instrument since a notification rather than approvals process is involved which would have sidestepped the TGA’s clutches).
‘Does the government have any plan to remove the barrier through Special Access Scheme Category A?‘ di Natale asked, to which the response from fellow Senator McKenzie ‘This is an area for Minister Hunt. I’ll take that on notice.‘ Which taking a guess almost certainly means ‘probably not.’
What we do know indisputably however is that as soon as the Bill left the Senate in June 2017 the Government said it would squash the thing flat in the House where in its words it ‘had the numbers’ to do it.
So on that we shall just have to see.
The State legislation in question is NSW Labor’s Medicinal Cannabis (Compassionate Access) Bill 2018 which, contrary to what many believed, doesn’t allow for small amounts of the herb to be grown at home but does make it permissible for registered users to posses limited supplies for personal use as medicine – though sources aren’t similarly protected. With the recent easing up of restrictions in the State however – largely thanks to Health Minister Brad Hazzard’s intervention earlier on in the year – the LNP Government now has some justification in stopping the initiative dead in its tracks.
Even without it though, developments in New South Wales do give at least some cause for optimism. It’s here for example that tireless advocate and GP Teresa Towpik is approaching her 31st approved prescription – some having being granted within a day. The benefits seen in her patients she says is ‘incredible’ and with each of them effectively an n=1 trial the genie is now edging its way out of the bottle. Teresa, who runs the popular ‘Medihuanna’ website and has written a book introducing colleagues to cannabis medicine, is currently preparing workshops and educational materials to share with fellow GPs. We’ll be returning to her in a while but a fact-finding mission to Canada has been planned ‘where I can visit the clinics to see how they go about things there.‘
Medicinal cannabis, as many will know, has been legal in Canada since 2001 and prohibition in general is set to end imminently, making it the second country in the world to have done so.
Which brings us seamlessly to yet another legislative foray, once more a play from the Greens – a Bill that would have Australia follow in Canada’s footsteps by legalising cannabis here altogether. As predicted however, from the moment the move became public, opponents, including Greg Hunt, came out en masse to condemn it. Playing to his ageing and ill-informed base, the Federal Health Minister immediately made a mockery of the term ‘evidence-based policy‘ by citing the hilariously long-discredited ‘Gateway Theory’ suggesting pot is the jumping off place for all other drug use. When BuzzFeed News asked his office for proof, naturally none was forthcoming.
Not unexpectedly, correlation between cannabis use and psychosis was also writ large in the furore – such links, never established as causal, magically transformed into ‘well known fact’, and were accompanied by dire warnings about how schizophrenia would be certain to go through the roof. As you’d expect, little or no reference was made to those jurisdictions where the plant has been legal for decades and in which no such horrific consequences have been noted. Nor for that matter the oft (but not often enough)-cited Keele Report which showed once and for all growing rates of cannabis use do not bring with them any corresponding rise in mental illness.
Australia’s top drug reform advocate Alex Wodak chimed in on Twitter putting things more into proportion. Quoting researchers Degenhardt et al from the Lancet in 2010, Dr Wodak pointed out the authors had estimated that problematic cannabis use accounts for just 2 million (10%) of a global 20 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYS) from illicit drug use with 7,000 (0.03%) of these due to schizophrenia. And bear in mind illicit drugs themselves – all of them added together – account for just 0.9% of the world DALYS in the first place. 0.03% of 0.9% in other words – a distinctly underwhelming burden of disease. Elsewhere the doctor argued even if cannabis did increase the chances of schizophrenia in the tiny number of those predisposed to it, this would affect only a minuscule fraction of the population as a whole – not, as the critics would have one believe, send incidences of psychosis sky-high.
What the Greens’ Bill did accomplish though was to distract the media and the public’s attention away from the issue of medical cannabis, which by now the reader will have gathered, has not disappeared and is still a long way from sorted. And all this only to have Labor Leader Bill Shorten dismiss the entire idea merely as ‘political clickbait’. The tragedy is, he was right.
Piling in shortly after came an offering this time from the extreme right of the Senate – in the shape of another piece of legislation with zero chance of being enacted: the Liberal Democrats (e.g. NSW Senator David Leyonhjelm’s) ‘Removing Commonwealth Restrictions on Cannabis Bill‘. This, as the label suggests, proposes the not entirely ridiculous idea that the States themselves, rather than the Commonwealth, should be left alone to determine their own laws on cannabis. It sparked a low-key sort of Public Inquiry which – at last look – has just over a dozen Submissions. They include one from Drug Free Australia whose efforts – as is usual with that organisation – turned out to be chock full of whoppers and more or less completely fact-free.
Incredibly though there was nothing from the self-styled ‘Medical Cannabis Council‘ an organisation set up purportedly to speak for the Australia’s (legal) would-be pot ‘Industry’. Timidity on their part or incompetence? Whatever its reasons, the absence of word from a body of cannabis growers…on a Bill that would further legalise cannabis growing provides yet another example of just how upside down things have gotten in this area. An administrator in the Australian Parliament even wrote in desperation to parties whom they felt might be interested in an effort to solicit more input. To little avail it turned out.
But whatever the case with the Inquiry, Leyonhjelm’s sortie is certain not to get far – Tasmania’s lucrative poppy straw trade ensures Australia’s blind adherence to the UN Convention on Drugs – reason enough to see the thing off in a hurry.
None of which is to say though the Senator’s intentions should be too quickly dismissed. A voting bloc formed some months ago between himself and fellow political travellers Cori Bernardi and Fraser Anning may shortly be bolstered by the inclusion of turncoat One Nation Member Brian Burston. It comes in the wake of the soap-operatic falling out between Burston and his then-supposed boss Pauline Hanson after the former went rogue and decided to support the Government with its corporate tax cuts. The four together (Leyonjhelm, Anning, Barnardi & Burston) would, in the curious world of Upper House statecraft, represent quite a force – so Leyonhjelm’s ambitions for cannabis might yet fall on a few perhaps not quite so deaf ears.
WHICH could be quite helpful since much of the medical cannabis advocacy scene in the meantime has sadly degenerated into farce. So factionalised and at war with themselves have elements within it become the whole thing now demonstrates itself not just laughably disorganised, ineffectual and lacking all credibility but actively damaging to its own cause. Though some individuals, by loudly undertaking acts of very public civil disobedience, may cause discomfort and a degree of embarrassment to the authorities with whom they do battle, a glance at Facebook, where much of this ‘advocacy’ takes place, reveals a less savoury aspect. For it not only throws up vast tracts of mis-information, ill-conceived ‘advice’ and ridiculously naïve (often illiterate) conjecture but potentially lethal ‘tutorials’ in how to make medical products – alongside screeds of abuse and accusation as one clique turns viciously and spitefully on another. We’re not linking to such rubbish ourselves, but it’s out there for anyone to see.
In the midst of all this, a recent attempt to petition the Government for a plebiscite about an ending of cannabis prohibition only mustered around 12,000 signatures – just the sort of number to signal apathy and lack of interest on the part of the public and ineptitude on the part of the movement rather than an appetite or ability to bring about legislative change. (To give this some perspective, animal rights activists in Denmark – with a population of under six million – managed to collect 140,000 names in an effort to persuade the government there to criminalise bestiality, which in that country is currently legal. They wanted to stop busloads of German sex pests apparently. Organisation and determination are two words that come to mind – on the part of the Danes, not the Germans).
Making matters worse still is inarguable proof – derived from more than one FOI enquiry – that Government officials monitor advocates’ social media intently – thus arming themselves with plentiful evidence that some of the more vocal among the ‘community’ are pathologically incapable of behaving like responsible adults. The silent majority meantime unfortunately get tarred with a similar brush. One long-time campaigner told AMCSignpost ‘What’s been happening on Facebook is horrendous, it’s crazy. And that petition only demonstrates what plays out in every State. People are either too sick or too scared or too damn lazy to make any effort. Truth is people, sick people, will travel miles and pay thousands for cannabis on the black market, hound advocates or medicine makers but won’t even bother to speak to their doctor or MP. If this is our public voice we are doomed.’
And Steve Peek, whose nine year old daughter Suli tragically died in October last year while unable to secure a regulated cannabis product, says he believes not only did lack of a legal supply contribute to his daughter’s premature death, so did the actions of some of the activists.
Taking to Facebook himself Steve said emotionally:
‘I have trouble sleeping at night now because when I close my eyes I see the look of fear and helplessness on Suli’s face when she died but also I cannot get out of my head these emails and FOI documents which highlight the damage some people in this so called cannabis community did to my daughter. Let’s not forget the recent BS on Facebook, the lies, the name calling and the accusations all being done on a public social media forum which I guarantee is being monitored. It can’t hurt Suli any more but what about all the other sick children and adults that you are hurting by doing this?‘
Sentiments with which many agree.
Concurrently though, and in a seemingly alternate Universe, rich-list financier-turned-hemp-grower Barry Lambert, after whom Sydney University’s research centre for ‘Cannabinoid Therapeutics’ (the ‘Lambert Initiative‘) is named, has been busying himself actually lobbying.
Seen often in the Capital of late, it seems Lambert is getting quite serious.
Talking to AMCsignpost, the 71-year old businessman, father and grandfather said he ‘didn’t want to say much at this stage‘ but nonetheless did express the view that ‘Canberra has little concern for the sick. They’re only interested in protecting their policies and processes.’ And he went on to compare action in the medical cannabis space with the tardy approval of hemp food for human consumption, which he claimed had been ‘held up without scientific reason‘. Such products were finally made legal in Australia last year.
‘Along with New Zealand we were the last two countries to get to enjoy this food,‘ Lambert said, adding that from his recent dealings with Government he believed ‘its ‘Last for Longer’ policy is alive and well when it comes to anything cannabis.’
The investor ruffled bureaucratic feathers in early 2017 after moving operations of Australian hemp company Ecofibre to the US because of regulatory over-reach here. Now, he says, the businesses is thriving and an IPO is on track for early 2019, despite what he called ‘the backward step‘ of the latest TGA Scheduling announcement we referenced earlier on.
‘We may have to rely on a change of administration before we get a change of policy,’ he said emphasising he remains ‘committed to continue my personal campaign for the sake of my grand-daughter (six year old Katelyn who uses cannabis to treat her intractable epilepsy) as well as other Australians seeking their human right to optimal healthcare.’
While elsewhere large egos and clearly unbalanced individuals set about about exenterating themselves all over Facebook and influencers such as Lambert try and animate the great and the good, other potentially far-reaching skirmishes remain simmering away in the background, each in its own way liable to have at least some effect on how and where this country’s cannabis journey winds up.
These are the handful of pending and high-profile court cases – of patients, carers and medicine-makers fallen foul of rules which, while obstructing all but statistically irrelevant ‘legitimate’ use of the drug, bring the full force force of the judiciary to bear on those caught doing so – or helping others to – by ‘alternative means’.
Bear in mind there were in the region of 80,000 cannabis arrests in 2015/16 – up 6% per cent on the previous year, the vast majority of which (90%) were for possession and the remainder, just 10%, for supply. One can only guess at how many of these were using – or providing – their weed for purely medicinal purposes, but whatever it was then, the number is certain to be higher today. The word is out – for many, cannabis is an often excellent (and versatile) treatment.
This 80,000 is out of an estimated two million consumers nationally, with, as we’ve said, at least 100,000 of them believed to be using it non-recreationally – compared to fraction who’ve managed to secure a prescription thus far.
That’s 100,000-plus sick individuals forced to run the gauntlet not only of using medicines of uncertain provenance but also of law enforcement. And a percentage inevitably end up as its victims.
Now, whether for medicine or not, the standard advice in Australia for those who get found in possession is to plead guilty in court and then mitigate – in the hope that the magistrate will show sense or compassion. Never mind in some instances cannabis might have been the one thing standing between life and death or was successfully treating intolerable pain. Never mind the individuals concerned might have been demonstrably able to leave behind them years of much more harmful and debilitating drug use; never mind that for many the option of a legal source simply did not and does not exist. In the eyes of the law – save for those minuscule few with prescriptions – all use is abuse and possession implies immediate guilt.
Of late though, a few gutsy individuals have said ‘no’, insisting they’ve done nothing wrong, some of them offering (or planning ) ‘not guilty on grounds of medical necessity’ pleas or other arguments using evidence likely to embarrass and rankle the powers-that-be.
One of these cases, which has thus far had little mainstream publicity, is that of Queensland’s Deb Lynch, who unfortunately for her prosecutors happens to be President of advocacy / pressure group the Australian Medical Cannabis Users Association, thus not a person to take her arrest and subsequent charge on the chin.
Lynch, who’s being assisted by veteran campaigner and cannabis law expert Grace Sands, was arrested in June last year when a possibly unlawful search of her home by police revealed a number of products she’d been using for a life-threatening and otherwise untreatable auto-immune condition. Repeated attempts to get a doctor’s prescription had failed.
Though her matter is at present adjourned, a defence of medical necessity has been raised – which justifies conduct that’s otherwise criminal. Cannabis possession is a working example. And now, a year and several turns at the magistrates court later, some important aspects of the case are due to be heard by the higher, more influential District Court – the outcome of which may affect future cases throughout Queensland.
This escalation follows attempts by the State’s Health Department to set aside subpoenas Lynch had submitted which she says might provide information showing why it’s impossible to get a legal supply in that jurisdiction. And these could prove awkward. The suggestion is officials there may have been deliberately blocking approvals because of links to companies and institutions carrying out clinical trials.
In April the magistrate in charge of proceedings ruled that medical necessity or other defences were unavailable and that documents sought under subpoena weren’t relevant to the facts and issues of the trial. This was immediately appealed.
What the District Court (or a yet higher court still) will determine is whether Lynch’s defence does in fact exist and what the principles are that will govern it. It will also decide on the relevance of the information sought by way of subpoena – so in every respect it’s a matter of considerable importance.
A date for this hearing has yet to be finalised but obviously we’re watching things closely.
Next is the by-now extremely well known case of Steve Taylor, who, after much agonising, yesterday (12th June) plead guilty to his cannabis charges.
Taylor, from Winmalee, NSW, may technically face jail for his ‘crime’, after growing 107 cannabis plants for his seriously ill daughters. Prior to yesterday a not guilty plea had been entered – the various charges relating to alleged ‘offences’ that occurred well before changes were made in the State which have subsequently improved patient access.
In March he and his family appeared in a widely-watched segment on ABC’s 7.30 Report which led to considerable public support. A journalist from the programme has been closely following their progress ever since, going so far as to turn up at the recent Hemp Expo in Sydney where the family was giving a talk.
Taylor cultivated the plants to juice for Morgan and Ariel, his daughters, both of whom have life-threatening gastrointestinal disorders, and has been helped in his defence by ‘Wikileaks Barrister’ Greg Barns, a prominent human rights lawyer. Barns is acting pro bono alongside solicitor Sally McPherson who is also acting for free. The family, whose story is additionally being tracked by the Blue Mountains Gazette, said they were ‘making a stand’ on the matter and the earlier ‘not guilty’ plea was widely reported, ensuring an important point could be made. Given the situation though, and on the advice of their legal team, changing the plea to a guilty one at this stage is by no means an unwise move. On Tuesday (12th June), with the ABC as usual present, bail was lifted completely and one of the charges was dropped. Sentencing will take place on 20th July when Taylor will be able to make a statement in Court which will also be released to the press, thus keeping awareness of the issues alive and in the public arena.
Also prominent is South Australia’s Jenny Hallam whose ongoing saga has gripped the press locally, nationally and internationally since her arrest in January 2017. The Adelaide-based ‘healer’ who gave her medicines away free including to Suli Peek whose father is mentioned above, had her home raided and products seized even as her arrest was greeted by public repugnance. Her own ‘not guilty’ plea will be heard in March next year, over two years after the raid itself happened. Additional charges have been brought and her legal aid blocked on technicalities in what look like insidious moves to weaken the campaigner’s resolve.
For reasons that are unclear Jenny has also faced a torrent of slurs and abuse on Facebook by others in the advocacy scene which have done nothing but bring elements of the cannabis movement – certainly in the eyes of those watching – into permanent and profound disrepute. Adding insult to injury, on the same day as her last court appearance in March to answer the further charges, the South Australian Government pledged $1 million to help ‘educate and train’ doctors in prescribing the drug. It’s an appalling footnote to the narrative, worsened by the fact that a new Administration – elected later that month – appears not to have followed through on actually using the cash to do anything.
If it sounds like a laborious, slow-going process, it is. The outcome though is likely to have a lasting effect.
On top of these three are proceedings against two of the Australian weed world’s best known personalities – both currently held in remand pending appearances in court.
Andrew Katelaris and Tony Bower have both been involved in cannabis for decades, one as an (albeit disqualified) medical practitioner the other as a medicine-maker.
The former – dubbed ‘Dr Pot’ by the media – has long argued the health benefits of cannabis and has treated a long line of patients, including children with seizures – famously once claiming ‘there’s no human disease that cannot be touched in some way‘ by the plant.
Since May of last year Katelaris has had ongoing dust-ups with the law, resulting in multiple arrests beginning a week after a TV programme showed him illegally manufacturing and administering cannabis products to a child. Released on bail, Katelaris had his his bail revoked and was placed on remand in December 2017 until his release some weeks later. He was then arrested again in April 2018 on a ‘low level indictable offence’ and once more remanded in custody – where he’s remained ever since.
A forthcoming bail hearing will determine whether or not he’ll be forced to remain there as he awaits trial in November this year – which is set to be an explosive occasion given the doctor’s reputation, level of support and an indisputably deep knowledge of cannabis medicine.
Tony Bower is the creator of the celebrated ‘Mullaways‘ – a cannabis oil credited with having treated hundreds of children with epilepsy nationwide. He was arrested at his home in NSW at the end of March and has languished in jail ever since. The company’s website is also currently offline.
Described as a ‘true pioneer of medical cannabis in Australia‘, Bower was sentenced to twelve months prison three years ago for breaching bail after being arrested for cultivation of cannabis but was released on parole. This time round he’s been less fortunate, while those that know him or even know of him are incensed. As BuzzFeed News reported at the time ‘Hundreds Of People Could Be Without Medicinal Cannabis After A Major Compassionate Supplier Was Arrested,’ correctly identifying that for many a critical and otherwise unavailable treatment was effectively being withdrawn, making Bowers forthcoming trial certain to be a significant one too.
Notwithstanding Deb Lynch – whose case has the chance of unearthing some highly inconvenient truths related to Queensland’s Health Ministry – that State in particular is starting to look like a tinderbox.
There, specific legislation is supposed to govern the use of medicinal cannabis. And on paper it doesn’t look horrifically bad. All forms of the plant can in theory be prescribed and some specialists are able to do so without first getting State authorisation. For general practitioners such approval is required plus – so bureaucrats claim -the support of a specialist but in principle it should nonetheless be possible to get it, though both GP and specialist also need TGA blessing. If it all sounds totally irrational, then it is – but not sufficiently so to prevent access to the medicine altogether.
Many Queensland patients however believe otherwise; that the real– as opposed to theoretical – situation is arguably the worst in the country. To date, an unknown number of prescriptions for cannabis products – but believed under thirty – are thought to have been written and approved. Of these many are for CBD isolates only and some are repeats so the figures for actual patients remains unknown too. And as a result there have been casualties whose stories are both appalling and tragic.
The treatment, and subsequent death, of 9 year-old Suli Peek in October 2017 – which this site has explored in some detail after her parents tried for years to secure a legal product – sparked a Coronial Investigation. This is still underway with the possibility of a Full Inquest to follow. In March this year Suli’s story was covered over two nights by ABC News (here and here) which revealed the Lady Cilento Childrens’ Hospital (LCCH) where Suli had been a patient and at which she later died, had ‘turned a blind eye’ to her parents administering illicit cannabis. This, they believed had been helping her to stay alive. Those ABC stories are understood to have caused turmoil, especially since someone at the Hospital reported Steve to the police shortly after Suli’s death, resulting in him being brought in for questioning and at one stage having his rights read.
Later, the grieving dad managed to procure documents pertaining to his daughter via a Freedom of Information request – and among other things they showed how closely both social media and the media generally are monitored by Government officials. A number of these were withheld due to ‘Cabinet Privilege’ – something Steve quickly appealed.
After receiving the paperwork, Steve telephoned the police and spoke with the officer who’d investigated both him and the Lady Cilento on behalf of the Coroner. He was told the police investigation had been concluded and that neither he nor anyone at LCCH would be charged – the latter because, in light of the ABC segment, ‘no law had been felt to be broken‘ since no staff member had been involved with administering the medicine.
Though a formal statement from Queensland Police was later obtained which told a slightly different story – making the legally nonsensical claim that officers were ‘preparing a report for the Coroner in this case and it will be for the Coroner to determine the outcome‘ – still the fact remains that nobody has been charged over the matter or seems likely to. The huge question outstanding is ‘Why?’
A recent update on the Queensland Health website titled ‘Queensland does not have an amnesty for medicinal cannabis’ clearly states ‘illicit products would not be able to be used by healthcare professionals in hospital settings, so when patients are admitted to hospital there is no capacity to continue there use‘ and also that ‘Other states in Australia have an amnesty approach for people who are terminally ill. This gives police the discretion not to prosecute someone found in possession of cannabis if they are using it for medical reasons. This is a police discretionary power, not a full amnesty. This approach is not supported by the Queensland Government‘. Something just doesn’t add up.
As all of this ferments, undiscussed and un-examined anywhere in the public domain, another parent whose child is also a patient at the Lady Cilento has gone into full activist mode, almost daring the Hospital and Queensland Health to take action as she publicly makes cannabis medicines and administers them openly to her child. But if acting in plain sight offers the best assurance against being charged and prosecuted – which it seems to – its unlikely the authorities won’t be feeling under pressure.
With internal problems believed to be occurring at LCCH and the police in an invidious position, with a Coronial Investigation underway and perhaps a full Inquest down the line; with subpoenas of senior officials in the balance – it’s surely just a matter of time before the issue of medical cannabis in Queensland explodes with an almighty bang. That or locals will wake up one day to find huge (better) regulation has been put in place. They can only live in hope for the second.
IT’S extraordinary – even comical – to think while these machinations continue, sharp operators dealing in cannabis shares on the Stock Exchange are shuffling $ millions relieved from investors as they pump out announcement after announcement designed to give share prices a bump. Some have made a fortunes on paper – after all, the money has to go somewhere. Trouble is though, the nominal value of such businesses – most of which don’t even have permission to plant so much as a seed, assuming they’ve actually got any – bears no relationship at all to their profits (which are zero) or even the prospect of any. It’s exactly the kind of scam (what other word is there for such antics?) highlighted the other week by the Motley Fool, which asked ‘Are you gullible enough to buy ASX pot stocks?‘ The online share-tipping and financial advice service – though speaking generally – completely eviscerated one company in particular: – AusCann. Two others were singled out also – Cann Group and MMJ Phytotech, a set up that seems to change its business model more often than most people do underwear. AusCann is supposedly worth over $ 400 million but has only $12 million at bank – a drop in the ocean if it’s serious about penetrating the market. ABC’s Four Corners did a highly entertaining feature about this sort of thing not long ago – not much helping to endear those involved with the businesses with many of their prospective customers. Following these pumps and bumps it’ll doubtless be time for the dumps; watch this space.
IT’S into this mayhem and madness however that some of the biggest weed growers in the world (all Canadian) now find themselves, one of them – Canopy – having opened the Australian-based Asia-Pacific Headquarters of its international brand Spectrum, in Melbourne. Their closest competitor, Aurora, is already here and invested in CannGroup, one of the few Oz businesses that’s cultivating. Aurora recently completed a $ multi-billion takeover of another Canadian company MedReleaf – the biggest to have occurred in the sector.
God knows what these titans must make of Australia.
For them the main worry at the moment is doubtless seeing how Canada’s Bill C-45 will pan out – the one that ends prohibition of cannabis: the ‘Cannabis Act’.
Passed by the Senate last Thursday (7th June) it’s likely to come into law this winter (in Australia). A number of amendments are currently before the Canadian House of Commons where changes will need to be discussed and then reconciled between the two chambers before it gets fully enacted. Among the most recent on this is the Lower House rejecting an amendment that would have left home growing a matter for States.
Rights and wrongs of the legislation have unsurprisingly been hotly debated by everyone involved with the plant – but one thing nobody seems to be arguing about is its historic importance. Alongside Uruguay, Canada will be one of only two countries in the world to have legalised cannabis fully – and the only OECD nation to do so. It’s bound to have huge repercussions and will do nothing to harm the cannabis giants entering Australia right now.
Unfortunately though, these people would like to be able to grow stuff – and probably the more of it the better.
Which is why they’re worth thinking about.
From a standing start five years back to businesses that now traverse continents and with market caps running to $ billions, whether people love what they’re doing or loathe it, no-one could would suggest they’ve not come a very long way. And in a comparatively short space of time. For them -holders of the lucrative medical cannabis licenses from Health Canada – success has happened so quickly it’s dizzying even to think about. In some cases, revenues have climbed from an obvious zero initially to well over the the $ five million mark now – and that’s revenue per month we’re referring to, not per annum. Which sounds like a whole lot of cannabis.
So when Ben Quirin, MD of Canopy / Spectrum told BuzzFeed in April that ‘with our entry into the market, we will be sharing with the government some of the best practice we have seen in Canada in regards to how they have adapted to making access more readily available,’ he really wasn’t joking about it.
If money talks in Australian politics (and it does) then these are the guys that have plenty, and their know-how isn’t to be sniffed at either.
He’ll be up against the usual suspects of course, some of whom we’ve touched on before. The Government’s ‘Advisory Council’, the AMA (whose past President has already made clear won’t be ‘lectured’ by the likes of ‘Big Cannabis’) and their medical specialist friends will all do their damnedest to nip whatever progress is made in the bud. The last thing they want (but are unlikely to be able to stop) is doctors at the coal-face being persuaded over time that natural, whole-plant products might have an important role to play in care of their patients. The NIIM, Teresa Towpik and David Caldicott will obviously be helping with that – and eventually the message should gain some momentum. If so it’ll make yet another assertion from ‘Centre of Excellence’ we’ve talked about look as dodgy as it genuinely is.
‘Currently there are difficulties in sourcing reliable, consistent and ‘clinically suitable’ products that are safe and effective for specific conditions,‘ its website chirrups, the authors clearly oblivious to the literally thousands of documents that point to the opposite. It further opines that ‘Doctors are also concerned about…the lack of access to sufficient information, including a reliable evidence base to guide their prescribing,’ a suggestion with which many might differ. It’s insistence on using the term ‘medicinal cannabinoids’ (those damn single agents again, as opposed to botanical ‘cannabis’) tells you as much as you might want to know about exactly where this little adventure is headed – so it’s unlikely Quirin will be on that Christmas card list either.
FEDERAL Labor would be a good place for him to start though.
While BuzzFeed (yet again) caught Bill Shorten last month telling a Town Hall in Queensland that ‘Conservative Politicians Need To ‘Get Out Of The Way’ Of Medical Cannabis Patients‘ (withe the delicious sub-heading ‘move or get off the pot‘) it does seem the Opposition Leader really is in favour of improving things where patient access is concerned. The same doesn’t however seem quite as true of his Shadow Health Minister, sad to say.
Catherine King – who has a long history with the TGA after being responsible for the Regulator under Gillard – has repeatedly said she believes the Department to be the best of its type in the world. And she seems to think it’s doing fairly OK on the cannabis with it. ‘A small bit of tweaking’ is what was needed one visitor to her office was told, while another advocate is convinced the Shadow Minister ‘doesn’t know the first thing about it‘ following a face-to-face meet. Others have said that according to Labor medical weed isn’t of too much importance entering any forthcoming election period. Make what you might want to of that.
ALL this foolishness of course comes at a time when the World Health Organisation has just gotten itself into gear and taken a long, hard look at things cannabis.
The upshot – and this is the short version – is that the other week the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence found it to be a ‘relatively safe drug, which is not associated with acute fatal overdoses,’ – something that’s been known for millennia.
But it’s the first step in a process that will end when an with an official recommendation is made to the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. The good news here is that Guterres himself is a fan of drug de-criminalistion, having engineered such a policy when Prime Minister of Portugal. The WHO recommendation will affect future international approaches to the plant, since as most people know, under international conventions, cannabis is currently classified similarly to other more dangerous drugs such as heroin.
The WHO did raise some concerns though, mainly to do with consuming the herb whilst pregnant, and the risks of driving on cannabis, the latter a lower in risk than with alcohol. Certain health risks (especially respiratory ones) to young children were also mentioned.
As it said last November, the WHO believes the cannabinoid CDB ‘exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential’, making a mockery of Australia’s Scheduling. The committee also mentioned company GW Pharmaceuticals and its product Epidiolex:
‘CBD has been demonstrated as an effective treatment of epilepsy in several clinical trials, with one pure CBD product (Epidiolex®) with completed Phase III trials and under current review for approval in the U.S.’ the WHO said, noting that ‘several countries have modified their national controls to accommodate CBD as a medicinal product.‘
It concluded: ‘To date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.’
On THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, the WHO report said (surprise!) a lethal dose couldn’t ‘realistically achieved in a human following oral consumption, smoking or vaporising.’ Jennifer Martin take note.
THC however, can lead to ‘fragmented thinking’ & ‘paranoid and grandiose delusions,’ but only in the short-term according to the WHO, though you’d be forgiven for thinking that many of the Reefer Madness-type cannabis mavens currently dominating the Australian debate don’t necessarily require any TCH at all to make their thinking ‘fragmented’ or give them ‘grandiose delusions’. ‘Advisory Council’ – ahem.
All in all then, the report is an important step in the right direction and very much likely to irritate the hell out of those whose fortunes and reputations have been made desperately trying (and for the most part failing) to demonstrate that cannabis does very much harm (what on earth do the likes of Wayne Hall think, one wonders?).
All this though, and the fact that – if he can be believed – Donald Trump has now said he’s likely to support a move to legalise ‘marijuana’ Federally in the US, the tide has most definitely turned.
So when it slipped out two days ago (13th June) that Teresa Towpik (didn’t we said we’d come back to her?) has just lately reached heads of agreement for a joint venture with a Canadian cannabis clinic outfit called ‘Compass‘ (the endeavour here will be called ‘Compass Australia’) we immediately pricked up our ears.
The idea, apparently, is for Teresa to head up Compass operations over here, aided by son Paul. The firm itself it says ‘is a medical cannabis consultation company whose core business is focused on providing educational and consultation services to Canadians who are able to obtain cannabis from a licensed producer under Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. Compass Cannabis has forty clinics that are now open or confirmed across Canada.’
Though blushing slightly at the firm’s description of her as ‘a global leading cannabis expert and physician‘ Teresa nevertheless told AMCSignpost she chose that business in particular because of its ‘vibe’. ‘My aim is, and always has been, to bring this medicine to everyone who might need it. Working with a company I know shares this exact goal will allow me to work faster and more effectively; I’m very excited about it.’
With now over a score-and-a half of highly delighted patients now seeing often remarkable benefits from the cannabis medicines she’s prescribed them, Teresa and her new business partner certainly seem on a far firmer footing than The Hydroponics Company were.
Which is where, if your memory goes that far back, is exactly the point we came in at.
If you think it’s all a bit mad though, you’d certainly be right about that.