Tuesday 15th October 2019
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, some of the medical profession seem to be confused about medicinal cannabis, and politicians and some members of the public even more so. There is resistance by the Tasmanian and some other governments to its introduction for treating conditions such as some forms of epilepsy and controlling severe pain. The official stand on medicinal cannabis goes something like this: currently there is limited evidence about the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis for use in different medical conditions and little is also known about the most suitable doses of individual cannabis products.
Despite official resistance, medicinal cannabis treatment can be accessed, but it is a difficult and cumbersome process. One of my constituents suffering from inoperable pancreatic cancer, Gordon Shaw, and his daughter, Georgina Knightley, had to fight long and hard for treatment. Georgina eventually found out about the Tasmanian Medical Cannabis Controlled Access Scheme, which she says is a well-held secret. She was finally introduced to a palliative care specialist at Launceston's Holman Clinic, which made an application to the access scheme. Georgina lost patience when it deliberated for six weeks. She wrote to the Minister for Health, demanding action. Approval was given and her father's condition improved dramatically. He was back in the garden, interested in food and much happier. Georgina Knightley says cannabis gave her father peace of mind till the end. There is no doubt that had he had it earlier, his suffering would have been greatly reduced. A constituent of the member for Windermere, across the Tamar, Lyn Cleaver, is a staunch advocate for the cause who treats her son Jeremy with medicinal cannabis for his very difficult epileptic seizures. Lyn Cleaver says she could not access cannabis for Jeremy until a score of other potential treatments had been tried - up to an iteration of 17 - without the relief needed for Jeremy. In the meantime, there was a danger of serious injury during his multiple seizures each and every day.
She says cannabis has been the only medicine that offers help to her son. Another example of the success of medicinal cannabis treatment is the renowned singer Olivia Newton-John, who came to Australia recently. You might have seen it on television - she was here to raise money for a cancer and wellness centre which bears her name. She is suffering from breast cancer and manages her pain with medicinal cannabis and says she weaned herself off morphine with the cannabis. Olivia Newton-John told an Australian television interviewer, Tracy Grimshaw -
I think everyone should have access to it. ... it's been with us for thousands of years ...
In America and many countries it is no longer illegal -
It's an important thing to make easier access for patients, particularly people in pain.
The official position on medicinal cannabis has some merit, but so does the need for it by people who know it works for them. What should happen next? Easier access immediately and a great deal of medical research, which has been weak, at best, for decades. Tasmania, with the Holman Clinic, Clifford Craig, the Menzies Centre and UTAS is very well placed for that research, especially with its easily traced island population. With Tasmania's poppy industry likely to be hard hit by the crackdown on the opioid epidemic in the United States, medicinal cannabis could be an alternative crop. There is no reason Tasmania could not lead the way with medicinal cannabis in Australia. Thank you.