Govt to introduce medicinal cannabis laws
Ben Oakley was a triathlon-fit teenager when he was struck down with a rare illness that left him wheelchair bound.
The nervous system disease Stiff Person Syndrome left him unable to walk, put on his shoes or even shower until he received a message on Facebook from an "angel" offering a miracle cure that could change his life.
It did. But it's illegal.
"We thought we were going to have to bury me," he said.
"We've still got a long way to go but thanks to the cannabis oil, it's changed my life."
The Turnbull government on Wednesday introduced to parliament legislation allowing the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes through a national licensing scheme.
"This is an important day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medicinal cannabis products," Health Minister Sussan Ley said.
While she described the laws as the "missing piece", Labor and the Greens argued it was really just the first piece.
The laws are an important step but sick people like Ben and the woman who supplies his cannabis oil free of charge can still face arrest.
"This bill does nothing to change the fact that cannabis is scheduled as an illegal drug that cannot be prescribed by a doctor," Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said.
Some of the responsibility falls to the states but it's up to the federal government to work with them and show leadership, Labor's assistant health spokesman Stephen Jones says.
"No one jurisdiction can move on their own, we need to all work together," he told reporters in Canberra.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm wants the government to go further and allow recreational use too, saying it'll save the cost of a medical regulatory framework and help raise tax revenue.
He cited the example of Colorado in the US, saying marijuana revenue raised more money there than tobacco or alcohol taxes.
"Nobody has died, the sky hasn't fallen, we are not facing rack and ruin, Sodom and Gomorrah," he told reporters.
Ms Ley says creating one nationally-consistent cultivation scheme, rather than having separate ones in each state and territory, will speed up access to medicinal cannabis.
There are already laws allowing legal production and distribution of medicinal cannabis, she says, but Australia doesn't have a safe, legal and reliable supply of locally-grown cannabis.
She wants the laws passed before parliament breaks in March.
KEY POINTS OF THE LEGISLATION:
- Establishes national licensing scheme for cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes in Australia.
- Creates two licence classes: medicine and research.
- Limits access only to "fit and proper" Australians, with no ties to crime.
- Allows importation of plants and seed.