The Hon. Sandra Kanck introduced the Controlled Substances (Palliative Use of Cannabis) Amendment Bill to the South Australian Legislative Council twice in 2008. The first occasion was 23rd July. Between the bill’s introduction in July and the vote at the end of November, she received feedback and praise from around the world, including from activists such as Dr. Alex Wodak and Dr. Kavid Caldicott. This is the summing-up speech, immediately prior to the second-reading vote.
Legislative Council – Thursday, 27th November, 2008 – page 1052
CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES (PALLIATIVE USE OF CANNABIS) AMENDMENT BILL 2008
Summing up speech by Sandra Kanck at the end of the second reading debate
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK (17:42): I take this opportunity to address the criticisms that have been made of this bill by all but one of the speakers; so, I know that it will fail when we put it to the vote. I want to begin by quoting from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 to which Australia is a signatory. The preamble of this convention is in that usual UN language—recognising this, understanding that, noting this and so on. Once that has been said, it goes on to set out the actual agreements. This sort of preamble sets the picture—it is the base on which all the agreements stand. It is really important to note that one of the fundamentals of the preamble of that convention, the very second one of those, states:
…recognising that the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering and that adequate provision must be made to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes …
It then goes on to the next clause, and so on, and I note the word ‘must’ in that. One of the many people who has been emailing me with support for this bill posed the following question to me: ‘Which part of the word ‘must’ do our politicians not understand?’ I also ask that question in relation to the word ‘indispensable’.
Article 4.1(a) of this same convention states:
The parties shall take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary—
(a) to give effect to and carry out the provisions of this convention within their own territory.
If you put those two together, this is what you get, so listen carefully:
…recognising that the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering and that adequate provision must be made to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes, the parties shall take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary—
(a) to give effect to and carry out the provisions of this convention within their own territory.
The message is absolutely and abundantly clear that the signatories to this convention, despite problems that might be associated with narcotics, have an obligation to ensure availability of narcotic drugs for the relief of pain and suffering.
I am pleased that, amongst some of the contributions which were made on this bill, there was some reluctant recognition of the palliative value of cannabis—and we will talk more about those values later. As I said, I am addressing some of the criticisms of the bill, but the Hon. Ann Bressington personalised those criticisms: it was not just criticism about the bill but it was about me as well.
In her speech, she accused me of hypocrisy, undermining parents and having a shallow and meaningless approach to serious global issues. Her logic was that anyone calling for the use of cannabis for medical purposes as I am doing in this bill is (to use her words) first, encouraging our children to believe marijuana is harmless; secondly, is guilty of abusing their position; and, thirdly, being absolutely irresponsible. There is quite a leap of faith (as you would hear) from one argument to the next in that continuum, and I reject both the suppositions and the accusations.
In her concluding remarks and using the same line of argument, the Hon. Ann Bressington stated that, first, there are people who care little for our children; secondly, such people have a history of drug abuse; thirdly, these same people want to validate their lifestyles by legalising drugs; fourthly, that I ought to have known this; and, fifthly, if I did, I have therefore made a conscious decision to rely on the recruitment of our young people. I presume she means to drugs. Again I reject both her suppositions and her accusations.
The Hon. Ann Bressington claimed that the term ‘war on drugs’ was coined by the legalisation movement to get people on their side. I have never heard of that. Generally, it is attributed to Richard Nixon in 1971. I did a web search on that and I found hundreds of thousands of references to Richard Nixon having been the person who coined that phrase, and the only indication I could find of its being a ploy of the legalisation movement actually came from the Hon. Ann Bressington.
The Hon. Ann Bressington has accused me of picking and choosing international conventions and, by inference, ignoring the international conventions that relate to drugs. She also used the words ‘using and abusing the conventions’.
What do the conventions say? Let us find out what it is that she says that I am picking and choosing, ignoring, using, abusing. There are three of them: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs; the Convention on Psychotropic Substances; and the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. I have already referred to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in relation to the obligation it places on signatory states to ensure the provision of narcotic drugs for the relief of pain and suffering.
Cannabis is a drug that is listed in schedule 1 of that convention, but so are morphine, pethidine and fentanyl, which are commonly used in pain relief in our hospitals. We would not deny any of those drugs to pain sufferers just because they are listed in schedule 1 of this convention, so why are we doing that with cannabis? And, for that matter, why is cannabis in the schedule, anyway? That is an important question to answer.
The fact is that it has got there almost by accident. In 1925, when the League of Nations was considering drug issues, the Egyptian delegation, more or less out of the blue, claimed that cannabis was as dangerous as opium and should be subject to the same international controls. That was immediately supported. Apart from no evidence being given, there was no prior briefing on this. Nevertheless, it was adopted, and then the various delegates in the League of Nations went back to their home countries. In Australia, for instance—and this comes from a paper by the late Robert Kendell—we have a statement from the then New South Wales under secretary from the Colonial Secretary’s department. Having been to that meeting of the League of Nations in 1925, he then said:
The omission of that drug [cannabis] from the operation of the Act would have been of small moment, but having been considered by the conference as required to be included, it might perhaps be as well, if practicable, to bring it within the purview of the dangerous drug laws.
So members can see the beginning of it. Someone makes a statement, no-one questions it and it then becomes part of a mythology.
Coming back to the convention itself, though, it places the same restrictions on cannabis cultivation as it does on opium cultivation. So, there it is going back to 1925. Article 23 and article 28 require each party to establish a government agency to control cultivation. So, to some extent, Australia has failed. Cultivators must deliver their total crop to the agency which must purchase and take physical possession of it within four months after the end of the harvest. The agency then has the exclusive right of importing, exporting, wholesale trading and maintaining stock, other than those held by manufacturers. I have no problem with that. In Tasmania, one can drive past field after field, kilometre after kilometre of opium poppies grown by the state.
The Hon. Ann Bressington is right that I am assuming that people who are given approval by a doctor to use cannabis for palliation will be able to grow their own using the existing laws about personal possession as the basis. But as happens in Australia, with the commonwealth growing opium for medicinal purposes and as per this convention, it would be perfectly proper for the state of South Australia to take responsibility for growing cannabis for medicinal purposes; after all, the Israeli government is doing just that. So, if the bill was passed, the state government would be entitled to establish such a regime and it would be absolutely in line with this convention.
The next convention is on psychotropic substances. THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, was originally placed in schedule 1 when the convention was enacted in 1972. At its 26th meeting, the World Health Organisation Expert Committee—and please note the word ‘expert’—on Drug Dependence recommended that THC be transferred to schedule 2, citing its low abuse potential. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs, however, rejected the proposal. But then why would you listen to experts, when you can have a policy that is based on belief and feelings and mythology?
I will read in full article 7 of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, because the Hon. Ann Bressington has asked whether I am seeking to ignore the conventions. The article says:
In respect of substances in schedule I the parties shall:
(a) prohibit all use, except for scientific and very limited medical purposes by duly authorised persons , in medical or scientific establishments which are directly under the control of their governments or specifically approved by them;
(b) require that manufacture, trade , distribution and possession be under a special licence or prior authorisation;
(c) provide for close supervision of the activities and acts mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b);
(d) restrict the amount supplied to a duly authorised person to the quantity required for his authorised purpose;
(e) require that persons performing medical or scientific functions keep records concerning the acquisition of the substances and the details of their use, such records to be preserved for at least two years after the last use recorded therein ; and
(f) prohibit export and import except when both the exporter and importer are the competent authorities or agencies of the exporting and importing country or region , respectively, or other persons or enterprises which are specifically authorised by the competent authorities of their country or region for the purpose.
The requirement of paragraph 1 of article 12 for export and import authorisations for substances in schedule II shall also apply to substances in schedule I.
Clearly (f) has nothing to do with the issue of medical cannabis, but, if anyone has listened to what I have just read out, there is nothing in my bill that is inconsistent with that particular convention. There is no picking and choosing, of which the Hon. Ann Bressington has accused me.
The third convention is the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988. That particular convention has nothing to do with the personal use of marijuana; it is about international trafficking of drugs by organised crime. I note however that article 25 says:
The provisions of this convention shall not derogate from any rights enjoyed or obligations undertaken by parties to this convention under the 1961 convention, the 1961 convention as amended and the 1971 convention.
Nevertheless, as the Hon. Ann Bressington has accused me of picking and choosing, I take the opportunity to point out that there are bigger fish than me attempting to alter some of these conventions. In 2003, a committee of the European parliament recommended repealing the 1988 convention. It found:
Despite massive deployment of police and other resources to implement the UN conventions, production and consumption of , and trafficking in , prohibited substances have increased exponentially over the past 30 years, representing what can only be described as a failure, which the police and judicial authorities also recognise as such. ..the policy of prohibiting drugs, based on the UN Conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988, is the true cause of the increasing damage that the production, of, trafficking in, and sale and use of illegal substances are inflicting on whole sectors of society, on the economy and on public institutions, eroding the health, freedom and life of individuals.
This comes from a committee of the European Parliament. I think most of us know (and I think we can tell from the reactions to this bill) that politicians are mostly not brave enough to question the myths about drugs that are the basis of so many of our irrational drug laws. It is, therefore, highly significant that a parliamentary committee should make this statement.
In addition to the three conventions that I have dealt with, in June 1998 a special session of the United Nations adopted the slogan ‘A drug free world—we can do it!’ with the target to be reached after a 10-year war on drugs. You would have to say that it must have been a joke because, 10 years on, that war has failed abjectly. In fact, the use of drugs has increased. It failed because the mindset that led to that conference is one that treats drug use as a moral and a criminal issue and not the health issue that it is.
At the time of that special session hundreds of MPs, doctors, artists, mayors, lawyers, judges, journalists and academics from 40 countries signed a letter to the then Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, expressing concerns about where the war on drugs was leading. Fifty Australians signed this statement, including—and I hope members of both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party are listening to this—former premiers John Cain, Neville Wran and Rupert Hamer, observing that:
True surrender is when fear and inertia combine to shut off debate, suppress critical analysis and dismiss all alternatives to current policies.
It seems that once they are able to get away from the sensational headlines and get hold of the facts, an increasing number of people around the world are questioning the effectiveness of the war on drugs.
When laws are not working in this state we look to see why it is so and then we amend the laws, and so it should be with conventions. The UN is, in some respects, like a parliament but writ large. Just as we amend legislation so, too, at the international level, should our representatives amend international conventions as new knowledge and new situations emerge. The 1961 convention, for instance, was amended in 1972. The 2006 UNODC World Drug Report stated:
Either the gap between the letter and spirit of the Single Convention, so manifest with cannabis, needs to be bridged , or parties to the Convention need to discuss refining the status of cannabis. So the debate is on, and has been on for a number of years now.
My bill is about the use of cannabis for medical purposes but I did note that the Hon. Ann Bressington’s contribution wandered far and wide to cover all drugs and not even in a medical context—which is what this bill is about. By doing that she was able to introduce many red herrings. I do not intend to address those red herrings.
I want to address the issue of medical marijuana. In her speech the Hon. Ann Bressington seemed excited by the fact that the AMA in South Australia does not support the use of cannabis for medical purposes, as if she had revealed something that I had been concealing. To the contrary, on the first occasion when I introduced this bill, two months earlier than the bill we are debating today, I mentioned twice that this was the case.
The Hon. Ann Bressington says that she contacted the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Adelaide to ask whether it supported the use of medical marijuana, and of course it said no. Organisations such as this are dependent, at least in part, upon government funding, and when the government of the day has a so-called ‘tough on drugs’ policy it makes it difficult for many people in those organisations to speak out. That the Multiple Sclerosis Society said no does not diminish the fact that many people—
The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON: I rise on a point of order. The honourable member is implying that organisations lied to the parliament. They knew it was a parliamentary—
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon. I.K. Hunter): What is your point of order?
The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON: That the honourable member is implying that organisations out there have lied.
The ACTING PRESIDENT: There is no point of order; sit down.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Thank you for your protection, Mr Acting President; I may call on it again if the voice behind me keeps interjecting. The fact that the Multiple Sclerosis Society said that it does not support the use of medical marijuana does not diminish the fact that many people with multiple sclerosis use cannabis to alleviate their symptoms. The evidence of the capacity for cannabis to relieve symptoms of many illnesses is growing—and yes, as some members have said, the evidence is sometimes anecdotal. This is because, in a catch 22 situation, it is sometimes difficult for researchers to undertake work at universities because ethics committees say to them, ‘This is an illicit substance; therefore, we will not approve your research.’ However, despite those restrictions being in place at some institutions, in other scientific and open-minded institutions questioning is powering away.
Here in South Australia we go back as far as 1971 when we had a Royal Commission into the Non-medical Use of Drugs, known as the Sackville report. In July 1995 a select committee of this parliament—comprising one Democrat, two Labor and two Liberal MPs—unanimously recommended the regulated availability of cannabis with strict controls, and this included a trial for medical purposes. Still in South Australia, we had Mike Rann’s drug summit in 2002, the recommendations of which he has mostly ignored.
The policies we have in place in South Australia are much more likely to push our children into the arms of drug lords. Successive governments have handed over the supply of cannabis to organised crime, increasing their profitability along the way—the exact opposite of what a wise drug policy would do. We have to begin recognising that the opposite of ‘tough on drugs’ is not ‘soft on drugs’ but ‘sensible on drugs’. That is what I am; I am ‘sensible on drugs’.
A number of speakers raised the hoary chestnut of a cannabis psychosis link. There are claims—I think they have been made in this chamber a number of times on numerous bills—that, as a result of the use of hydroponic cannabis, we now have a much stronger version than the backyard version. However, when you think about it, members in this place have been responsible for that happening by making it tougher for people to grow their own plants. Those people then go out and buy it off the streets, and they buy the hydroponically-grown cannabis. So if members have a concern that the cannabis is growing stronger they should look to themselves, because they have created the situation—in fact, most of the members in this chamber are responsible for that situation. I would hardly describe this as successful policy.
The extra strength is conjectured to be part of a link between cannabis use and psychosis. I think it was about a month ago that the Beckley Foundation published a report from the Global Cannabis Commission. It was written by five leading marijuana and drug policy researchers, including Benedikt Fischer of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, and three Australians: Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland; Simon Lenton of the National Drug Research Institute at the Curtin Institute of Technology; and Robin Room of the University of Melbourne. Added to getting some outside advice and extra research were a number of other researchers, including two members of the British government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, David Nutt, the incoming chair of the ACMD and Professor of Psychopharmacology at Bristol University, and Leslie Iversen, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University. I will not read you much of this report, because it printed out about three centimetres thick, but I will mention one comment only from Iversen. He noted:
The lack of any evidence of increased rates of psychosis following large increases in marijuana use …’convinced [ the ACMD ] that cause and effect has not been proven’ .
There is a link, but it is not a proven cause. Mark Weiser, Director of the Department of Psychology at Sheba Medical Centre in Israel, recently produced information on this. I will quote the final sentence of an abstract of one of his papers. He states:
Thus an alternative explanation of the association between cannabis use and schizophrenia might be that pathology of the cannabinoid system in schizophrenia patients is associated with both increased rates of cannabis use and increased risk for schizophrenia, without cannabis being a causal factor in schizophrenia.
The ultimate rationale for the Hon. Ann Bressington’s position is a version of ‘we are sending the wrong message to our young people’, yet we do not take that view when it comes to the nexus between morphine and heroin. I have never heard it said that, because morphine is used in hospitals to relieve severe pain, we are placing children at risk; yet, the evidence of deaths from different drugs shows that morphine is a far more dangerous drug than cannabis.
The Hon. Ann Bressington asked whether anyone in this chamber believes that their children or grandchildren would be better off using drugs. It is a nonsense question. I do not believe that anybody in this chamber would be, and it is certainly not what I am about. This approach, while creating the impression that I want children to use illicit drugs, is not what this bill is about, either.
Once again, as I did when I introduced this bill in July and again when I reintroduced it in September, I will explain what this bill is about. I am not sure where the confusion lies. The purpose of this bill is to allow a qualified medical practitioner to sign a palliative cannabis certificate for a patient who she or he deems could have symptoms of specified illnesses or diseases palliated by the use of cannabis. I gave examples in my speeches, on both occasions, of the sorts of conditions that can have symptoms alleviated by cannabis. If the bill were to pass, the government in its wisdom would determine which illnesses this might apply to. This is a bill that amends the Controlled Substances Act, and that has regulation making powers that could accomplish that.
Had I gone through the process of specifying the illnesses, the symptoms and the diseases, I am sure that would have been used as another red herring to try to argue flaws in this bill; so, I did not attempt to do that. I thought, this government, should the bill pass, will work out maybe two or three that it might be prepared to allow it to be used for.
The Hon. Ann Bressington gave an example of a doctor in the US abusing the Californian legislation, I think, as proof that we should not allow it here. That particular example she gave concerned a doctor who prescribed cannabis to a young woman with sore feet. Now, that does not in any way invalidate what I am attempting to do in this legislation, because sore feet would not comply. If the government came up with a list of regulations of the conditions under which doctors would be able to give a cannabis certificate, sore feet would not be on the list. I have absolute confidence that Michael Atkinson, for example, would not allow sore feet as one of the symptoms.
You have to remember that, under this legislation, when a doctor has given out a cannabis certificate, that doctor has to provide to the authorities a copy of the cannabis certificate within seven days of issuing it.
If he or she lies about what has been done, they face a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up two years. Throwing in a story about one aberrant doctor in California does not in any way negate what this bill is trying to do. Most doctors are responsible. Every now and then irresponsible ones come along and they are dealt with by the Medical Board and in some cases they are dealt with by our courts system.
The Hon. Ann Bressington says that the evidence is not there to support the palliative use of cannabis. I draw attention to a statement incorporated in the citizen’s right of reply in yesterday’s Hansard from Dr David Caldicott, who was—
The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON: On a point of order, sir, if I cannot make a response to that right of reply, why can the honourable member? It’s not to be debated.
The ACTING PRESIDENT: Order! What is your point of order, Ms Bressington?
The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON: That she is bringing up something outside this debate.
The ACTING PRESIDENT: Your point is relevance?
The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON: That’s it.
The ACTING PRESIDENT: I rule against it—there is no point of order.
The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON: I am sure you would.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Dr David Caldicott in that statement accused the Hon. Ann Bressington of grossly misrepresenting science and called upon this chamber to ensure that a modicum of scientific honesty be maintained. There is not too much to ask in granting those particular requests but, despite what the Hon. Ann Bressington says, the reality is that the evidence for the palliative use of cannabis keeps growing.
Just one week ago new research from Ohio University, albeit on rats at this stage, revealed that cannabis may be able to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. They found that cannabis cut inflammation in the brains of the rats and that it could even trigger production of new neurones in the brain.
One of the more interesting things I have come across (and a lot of people in the world who have been trying to get legal medical marijuana are very angry about this) was uncovered only two months ago. It turns out that the US government has a patent on cannabis.
The Hon. A. Bressington: Why?
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Oh, wait until you hear the answers, Ms Bressington.
The Hon. A. Bressington interjecting:
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: No, no, wait and hear. US Patent No.6630507 was issued on 7 October 2003. It has been kept hidden for five years, and it has only been the assiduous work of people trying to get marijuana legalised for medical use that has uncovered this. The application went in on 2 February 2001. Here is the abstract:
Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of a wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present in vention. A particular disclosed class of cannabinoids useful as neuroprotective antioxidants is formula (I) wherein the R group is independently selected from the group consisting of H, CH3 and COCH3.
The inventors—and I dislike that word because it is like a version of plant-variety rights—are: Hampson, Aidan J.; Axelrod, Julius; and, Grimaldi, Maurizio. The assignee is the United States of America, as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services. So, the US government knows the medical value of this substance.
I want to read also—this is quite extensive, but worthwhile hearing—the definition of oxidative associated diseases. These are some of the things with which cannabis can deal.
`Oxidative associated diseases ‘ refers to pathological conditions that result at least in part from the production of or exposure to free radicals, particularly oxyradicals , or reactiv e oxygen species. It is evident to those of skill in the art that most pathological conditions are multifactorial , and that assigning or identifying the predominant causal factors for any particular condition is frequently difficult. For these reasons, the term ‘free radical associated disease’ encompasses pathological states that are recognised as con ditions in which free radicals or ROS contribute to the pathology of the disease , or wherein administration of a free radical inhibitor, scavenger or catalyst is shown to produce detectable benefit by decreasing symptoms, increasing survival , or providing other detectable clinical benefits in treating or preventing the pathological state.
Oxidative associated diseases include, without limitation, free radical associated diseases , such as ischemia, ischemic reperfusion injury, inflammatory diseases, systemic lupus erythematosis, myocardial ischemia or infarction, cerebrovascular accidents ( such as thromboembolic or haemorrhagic stroke ) that can lead to ischemia or an infarct in the brain, operative ischemia, traumatic haemorrhage (for example, a hypervolemic stroke) that can lead to CNS hypoxia or anoxia, spinal cord trauma, Down’s syndrome, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes), cataract formation, uveitis, emphysema, gastric ulcers, oxygen toxicity, neoplasia, undesired cellular apoptosis, radiation sickness and others.
The present invention is believed to be particularly beneficial in the treatment of oxidative associated diseases of the CNS because of the ability of the cannabinoids to cross the blood brain barrier and exert their antioxidant effects in the brain. In particular embodiments, the pharmaceutical composition of the present invention is used for preventing, arresting or treating neurological damage in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and HIV dementia, autoimmune neurodegeneration of the type that can occur in encephalitis, and hypoxic or anoxic neuronal damage that can result from apnea, respiratory arrest or cardiac arrest and anoxia caused by drowning, brain surgery or trauma such as concussion or spinal cord shock.
What is interesting about that list is that many of those illnesses, symptoms and conditions that I have just read out that this patent recognises can be treated with the use of cannabinoids are exactly the conditions that the people who are trying to get medical marijuana are treating when they can get hold of the cannabis to treat those symptoms. To tell us that the science is not there is totally inaccurate.
The Hon. A. Bressington: Who says that?
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: As a means—
The Hon. A. Bressington: Who said the science is not there?
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: You did.
The Hon. A. Bressington: I did not.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: You did.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon. I.K. Hunter): Order! The Hon. Ms Kanck knows better than that. Do not respond to interjections. We will be here all night otherwise.
The Hon. A. Bressington interjecting:
The ACTING PRESIDENT: Order!
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would be inclined to wonder, after finding out that the US has sat on this patent now for five years—given that they have continued to pursue people who use marijuana and, in some cases, in some countries, that has resulted in some extraordinary penal provisions—why they have kept it quiet. You would have to wonder why it is—
The Hon. A. Bressington: It’s on the public record.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: It is on the public record, Ms Bressington, and that is why I am reading it and making sure it is on the record here so that members know that this is the case.
The Hon. A. Bressington interjecting:
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Mr Acting President, I wonder whether you could give me some protection from this person behind me. I am finding it a little difficult to—
The ACTING PRESIDENT: I would like to but I have almost given up trying. The Hon. Ms Bressington will allow the Hon. Ms Kanck to finish her contribution in silence. It would help us all.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Thank you, Mr Acting President. It does seem strange to me that the United States is pursuing people who use cannabis, making it illegal in so many countries with all of those penal provisions, yet they have a patent out like this. You have to think: if you could stop people growing it and they can start putting their version of it (whatever it is) onto the market, then they have the market sewn up to deal with all of those conditions.
I think it is important to also recognise the cost that is associated with the pharmaceutical drugs; that is, the ones that are provided to us by drug companies. As a means of dealing with nausea, for instance, for people with cancer or AIDS, the use of cannabis is highly effective. Pharmaceutical anti-nausea drugs cost something like 100 to 1,000 times more than marijuana for a sufferer. In this case there is not even a taxpayer subsidy if we were to pass this bill. It would cost the taxpayer zilch.
I know that there is a reasonable number of MPs across the board in Australia who support drug law reform. I do not know what the numbers are at the moment, but going back two or three years ago I was aware of about 12 members in this parliament who were members of the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform.
What is needed now is courage. Having been in the firing line a few times for statements that I have made about drugs, because I am advocating drug law reform, I know that it takes courage. In the hope of assisting future legislators, I draw attention to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Drug Strategy Household Survey. It has asked these particular questions twice: in 2004 and 2007. There has been a slight increase for both answers in that three-year period. I believe the sample number was 23,000, so for those who understand statistics, that is a highly significant database to draw on.
They were asked two questions: one was assessing how they felt about a change in legislation permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In 2004 the percentage in support was 67.5 per cent, going up to 68.6 per cent in 2007, and then when they were asked whether they supported a clinical trial for people to use marijuana to treat medical conditions, in 2004 it went from 73.5 per cent of the survey respondents to 73.6 per cent. So, there is actually extraordinary support out there in the community.
I offer that to members here. If you are one of those who is a member of the Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform, you can go out on a limb and know that the public supports you. Yes, you will get the bigots who will go on to an Adelaide Now website and write virulent stuff, and you might even get some people in here who will say virulent stuff, but the public is behind you if you do it.
This is a compassionate measure. I ask why we should deny people who have exhausted all other pharmaceutical measures what might be the only drug left that might work for them. That seems to me to be inhumane. Under this legislation, if somebody uses it and it does not work then the medical practitioner who has given the cannabis certificate can revoke it.
When I introduced this bill two months ago I began by saying, ‘This bill is not about how we approach illicit drugs, rather it is about how we ought to use science to assess the medical benefit of a drug, in this case cannabis.’ Some of the speeches we have heard opposing this measure have not brought that science to bear in their arguments and that is unfortunate. We cannot make our decisions based on reports from Channel 9, for instance, which was cited by one of the speakers.
Ultimately, the science is there. The international conventions say that we must make such drugs available for medical use. The US government, because it knows just how good the palliative use of cannabis is, has patented it. The public is behind the use of medical marijuana. All that is missing now is courage by politicians. Unfortunately, I know that this bill is going to fail when it goes to the vote because within this chamber and within this parliament we lack that widespread courage.
Second reading negatived.