Tuesday, 20 May , 2003 18:36:00
This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.
MARK COLVIN: The New South Wales Premier Bob Carr has announced a trial of the use of cannabis to help people suffering from terminal illnesses, and he calls it a sensible mixture of compassion and commonsense.
Those eligible to take part in the four-year trial include patients suffering from HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries or severe and chronic pain that can't be assisted by more mainstream methods.
But already there's been criticism from at least one health organisation that works directly with those suffering from cannabis use.
Jo Mazzocchi reports.
JO MAZZOCCHI: The New South Wales Premier Bob Carr says when a conservative organisation such as the Country's Women Association can debate the medicinal use of cannabis for chronic illness, that represents a significant shift in public opinion.
And it's that kind of acceptance that Bob Carr is hoping will now extend to a special four-year trial, said to be the first of its kind in Australia.
BOB CARR: Now, after a long period of careful deliberation I can advise the House the Government intends to establish a medicinal cannabis scheme in New South Wales.
Mr Speaker, we are preparing a draft exposure bill, which will involve a four-year trial of the medical use of cannabis.
JO MAZZOCCHI: The trial will only be available to those suffering conditions such as HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries or severe and chronic pain, who otherwise can't be assisted by conventional treatment.
BOB CARR: It's directed at people like the 62-year-old man with bowel cancer who came to the attention of the Working Party. He uses cannabis to relieve pain and to beat the nausea that stops him from eating.
This is his simple plea to the Working Party and to us as legislators. He says, quote: "I hope you can come to a decision soon whether people can grow a plant or get it by prescription. At least we could get rid of the bad feeling of being a criminal just because we want to live."
JO MAZZOCCHI: Already it's been supported by some health groups including the Cancer Council and even the Law Council of Australia. The Australian Medical Association has also welcomed the move.
Federal AMA President Dr Kerryn Phelps.
KERRYN PHELPS: The fact remains that there is a subset of patients for whom the only effective treatment is cannabis, and the only way at this stage that they can deliver it is either orally or by smoking it, and I think that this also opens the way not only for relief of symptoms for these patients who may be suffering from intractable wasting or pain, but it also opens the way for researches to be able to obtain standardised supplies of cannabis and to be able to come up with other ways of delivering it other than by smoking it.
JO MAZZOCCHI: Do you have any concerns though, about the side effects for some patients?
KERRYN PHELPS: Of course there are side effects for some patients. But if patients are taking morphine or other forms of pain relief there are side effects of that medication as well.
So as long as we know what those side effects are and that patients are able to make an informed decision and that there is an appropriate public health message that goes out with it that this is for a limited subset of patients who have intractable symptoms only relieved by cannabis, and that in most other circumstances it is an unhealthy thing to use, then I believe that this is responsible legislation and there are people who will benefit from it.
JO MAZZOCCHI: And while Premier Carr has stressed that while the case against the criminalisation of cannabis is stronger than ever, this measure is only for a small group who aren't being assisted by more mainstream methods.
But Cannabis expert, Jill Pearman, the Director of the Quit Marijuana Program at Westmead Hospital has described the move is irresponsible.
JILL PEARMAN: I think it's absolutely scandalous that this has been announced by our Premier. I actually run a program whereby we see people who are psychotic because of cannabis use. This drug is a very serious drug. It has every serious effects on the brain.
This drug is the only drug out of all the drugs that is fat soluble. This creates a an effect in the brain that sends people into a state of depression, into a state of anxiety, into a state of mental illness very quickly, and I through my clinic, I see it day in, day out, people whose lives… young people whose lives have been destroyed by this drug.
Every taxpayer in New South Wales should be absolutely enraged this
has been announced, that this is even being entertained, and every parent
should write to Bob Carr immediately and state that they do not wish this
to happen if they care at all for their children.
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