WHEN it comes to policy debates, it is always difficult to argue against emotion-based legislation.
This is certainly the case for the Medicinal Cannabis Bill suggested by ACT Greens legislator Shane Rattenbury, who introduces the topic in his discussion paper by saying: “This legislation will mean that (loved ones) who are dying and suffering chronic pain will be able to access medicinal cannabis without the risk of prosecution”.
Painting a picture of the incarceration of Canberra’s dying and suffering loved ones is unhelpful for a reasoned debate. Compassion always needs to be weighed against consequences, empathy with evidence, and political rhetoric with prudence.
In order to get some clarity on the issue, it must first be made clear that “medicinal cannabis” is already legal and available. Dronabinol is a THC pill approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration along with an oral cannabis extract, Sativex. These have been clinically tested, distilled of negative chemicals, and are prescribed for specific medical conditions. I am not aware of any group in the country that opposes these drugs.
However, what we are talking about here is legislation that would make it legal for anyone with a “debilitating” condition, as long as two doctors approved, to grow their own marijuana plants and consume them in any way they see fit without any quality control.
I am not necessarily against the use of cannabis in legal drugs, but am arguing that this potentially very dangerous drug, with links to psychosis, cognitive damage, addiction and respiratory issues, needs to go through the same process that every other drug does – through the TGA and clinical trials.
The Australian Medical Association recognises these risks, and has called for more research before any legislation is enacted. In particular, smoking raw marijuana can deliver 1500 harmful chemicals to the user. Although some may claim there are benefits, we need to be responsible and explore all the potential health and social consequences.
This legislation does not do this. It instead attempts to bypass all our processes that make pain-relieving drugs safe.
Although I’m sure a large part of the motivation of the legislation is based on compassion, it is plain that the larger agenda is drug law reform.
It is no secret that there are many political groups pushing for the full legalisation of marijuana and other recreational drugs. This legislation allowing the personal cultivation of the drug for people who are “suffering” instead becomes the thin edge of the wedge.
Good policy should not be based on emotion, or used as stepping stones to broader agendas. The road to poor laws are paved with good intentions.
Nick Jensen is a director of the ACT Australian Christian Lobby