I also rise to speak on the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016. From my perspective, it is a very significant day when medical cannabis is acknowledged as being a product that makes a real difference to people suffering from chronic conditions or terminal disease. It will mean that patients and their family members will no longer have to hide in the shadows to source cannabis off the street. They will have a pathway to access safe and effective product and to access that product legally.
This evening I would like to provide a brief overview of the bill, but more importantly I would like to talk about the people that have contributed in so many ways to my journey of acknowledgement and recognition of the properties of this product.
Through the bill, the Commonwealth will oversee all regulatory aspects of cultivation of cannabis for medical and research purposes through one national scheme. The products that are likely to be available are cannabis tincture for children, oil for adults and raw product for vaporising. Patients would be able to access the product either by taking part in clinical trials or through a scheme whereby GPs, or other medical professionals, would be able to apply to become authorised prescribers.
This would initially focus on childhood epilepsy where the effectiveness of medical cannabis is very well documented, to the treatment of nausea resulting from chemotherapy, to HIV treatment and palliative relief. However, other patients suffering from chronic and ongoing conditions will also be able to apply to the authorised prescriber for access to these products.
I cannot thank enough the people that have helped on this journey by sharing their stories and/or by educating me. From a personal perspective, I first became aware of the value of this product from my late brother-in-law Joel Garrett. At the age of 28 Joel was diagnosed with MS. His physician said that it was the most aggressive form of MS that he had ever seen or treated. Sadly, Joel died at the age of 33 on 21 June 2005.
During the course of his illness, in an effort to give him relief, his mum and his sister had to source product in Adelaide. Speaking to them, they explained how difficult it was having to go out to try and get product. It was the only thing that gave Joel the relief that he needed. He had uncontrollable shakes towards the end of his life and no amount of medication that they could give him would make any difference at all to his circumstance. However, by accessing this substance he was able to control his shakes.
It gave him a quality of life that he could achieve from nowhere else, and this was right up until the day he died. In reflecting on Joel's journey, that has had a huge impact on the family. I know for a fact that Joel will be up there somewhere saying, 'At last they've recognised it,' and he would be greatly appreciative of what we are doing here.
It was quite some time later when I was watching a 60 Minutes program-I think it was in 2014-that I saw Lucy and Lou Haslam, and the battle their son, Daniel, was having facing bowel cancer. Lou was a former drug squad officer, yet he and Lucy were also forced to access cannabis to address Daniel's chemotherapy induced nausea, and they shared that story with all of Australia. That really brought back to me the memories of the challenges that Joel's mum and sister had all those years ago.
I made an effort and was privileged to meet Lucy at a meeting of the cross-party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy and Law Reform in mid-2014. We had a chat about it. We also had a chat about Daniel's condition, and the fact that the only way that he could get relief to stop the nausea to allow him to have a meal after chemotherapy-and allow him to maintain his weight to continue to have his treatment-was by using this substance. Sadly, Daniel is not with us anymore. Nevertheless, I would like to acknowledge the legacy that has been left by Daniel and particularly Lucy and Lou Haslam for the work that they have done.
I also spoke to Lanai Carter in Brisbane. She told me about her family's trips backwards and forwards to the United States to access treatment for her son Lindsay, the benefit it had for his brain tumour induced seizures and their ongoing challenge in navigating the TGA's Special Access Scheme.
While they are anecdotal, these stories reinforced my understanding of the benefits of medical cannabis. This was further strengthened by Dr Alex Wodak, who is an Emeritus Consultant for Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent's Hospital and President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation; Dr David Caldicott, head of the emergency department at Calvary Hospital; and Dr David Allsop, research fellow at the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney, who told me about the 'regulatory thicket', as he called it, in trying to deal with this problem.
I also had the opportunity of meeting with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, who briefed me on the regulatory environment to help to try and get some understanding on it, and to speak with Lachie Stuart from the Australian Cannabis Industry Association for their perspective on how legal marijuana markets overseas work and the role of licensed producers and regulators, with Debbi Cliff in Cairns, who has a wealth of knowledge about medicinal cannabis together with her own chronic health conditions and intolerance to traditional pain medications, and Josh Waldron, who promoted medicinal cannabis through public meetings and organised the Medical Marijuana March for the Sick and Dying. I think it is also important to acknowledge the efforts of the Queensland state LNP convention to rally support at the Queensland legislative level. I was really proud of the fact that they did that.
All along I have been in contact with hundreds and hundreds of people from all around Australia and I have been overwhelmed by the level of support. Locally, I was touched by the families who contacted me-desperate for an opportunity to use medicinal cannabis in a safe, legal and regulated way. In particular, I mention Sherri Hickey of Cairns, whose daughters Emily and Elyshia suffer a rare genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. This causes them to suffer constant pain, dislocations, migraines and allergies to pain medication. Sherri said:
I have been tempted many times to consider trying cannabis for Elyshia. But the risk of getting caught for doing something illegal stops me. It would be so much safer under the supervision of a doctor … Thank you for supporting the needs of sick children.
Also in Cairns, Jodie Higginson's nine-year-old daughter, Kiara, has a rare form of epilepsy called Jeavons syndrome, which causes hundreds of light-triggered seizures every day. She is on constant medication, which causes side effects and severe reactions. Jodie said:
Thank you so much for advocating for this natural alternative to drugs. I hope kids and adults who suffer daily unnecessarily will soon get the chance to see if this wonderful natural alternative offers them relief.
This bill is a vital step. It will enable the cultivation and manufacture of a legal product in Australia and it is the 'missing piece' that we have been struggling with. It will enable states and territories to put in their own legislation to allow this to happen. Let us make sure we get the basics right-things like crop security and avoiding the stockpiling of product. After that, we may even be able to look at exporting Australian medicinal cannabis to address the global shortage of legal product. In the meantime, I will do everything in my power to help get this through as quickly as possible so that the states can allow cultivation to start and so that patients can have legal access as soon as possible.
In closing, I would again like to commend the members of the cross-party group, including Dr Sharman Stone, Senator Richard Di Natale and Melissa Parke, for their ongoing advocacy. I also offer my heartfelt congratulations to our Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, for her work in introducing this bill. Today I am very proud to support legislation which will have a profound, positive impact on so many Australians' quality of life. I commend the bill to the House.