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Flame lit under medicinal cannabis debate

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A push to legalise medicinal cannabis has been launched by a group of federal MPs drawn from each of the major political parties.

The recently-reformed Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy and Law Reform has called for an end to what it sees as the stigma surrounding the use of medicinal cannabis.

The group, convened by Liberal MP Dr Sharman Stone, Labour MP Melissa Parke and Greens Senator Dr Richard Di Natale, is urging members of each of the main political parties to follow several US states and support moves to have the medicinal use of cannabis legalised.

The medicinal use of cannabis was prohibited in the middle of last century, and in recent years calls have mounted to have the ban overturned, including in the unanimous findings of a NSW parliamentary committee.

Dr Stone said “significant numbers of random trials have demonstrated the last resort value of using medicinal cannabis to relieve some of the terrible suffering associated with some terminal cancers and other conditions”.

Dr Di Natale said the evidence for the efficacy of medicinal cannabis in relieving the relieving the nausea, pain and weight loss suffered by some with a terminal illness was clear.

“To deny effective medication to someone with a terminal illness simply because of stigma is cruel,” the Senator said.

He said that its use would need to be regulated, but there was no reason why it could not be licensed in the same way as poppy growers are now.

In a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia last December, authors including Emeritus Professor Laurence Mather of the Sydney Medical School and Dr Alex Wodak, a consultant at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, argued that the time had come to lift the ban.

“It is now clear that cannabis has genuine medicinal utility, but this has been largely overlooked, with research and society’s attention being directed towards the hazards of recreational use rather than the benefits of medicinal use,” the authors wrote.

In its report, the NSW parliamentary committee said the evidence suggested medicinal cannabis-based treatments would be appropriate “for a small number of people in specific circumstances, and under the supervision of medical practitioners with suitable expertise”.

“Those patients would necessarily be people with severe and distressing symptoms that are not able to be addressed by existing medications,” it added.

The committee’s recommendations were dismissed by the NSW Government, but Federal Labor MP Melissa Parke said it was “time for Australia to move forward on this issue”.

Adrian Rollins