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December 9, 2020

An overview of medical marijuana in Australia

It’s nigh upon impossible to work out the legalities of medical marijuana in Australia. Even if cannabis is decriminalised in a state, such as South Australia, the law is overwhelmingly confusing and doesn’t make for a good read, or for that matter, something easy to write.

What is clear is there is a huge resistance to the role that medical marijuana in Australia could play. In 2003, the ACT voted to allow doctors to determine when cannabis was appropriate for their patients, however there was intense lobbying by the federal government that ultimately resulted in the legislation being overturned.


More recently in May 2013, a NSW parliamentary committee unanimously recommended that medicinal cannabis be permitted for some people with certain terminal conditions. This too was promptly overturned by opposing politicians and lobbyists.

The rationale is elusive, with doctors in Australia prescribing morphine, cocaine and amphetamine for medicinal purposes even though the recreational use of the same drugs is illegal. But for some reason, the use of medical marijuana in Australia is deemed a bridge too far for our politicians.

The history of marijuana prohibition is packed with ignorance, prejudice and ulterior motives. Cannabis was initially banned worldwide in 1925, because it was declared by the League of Nations to be as dangerous as opium. To date that clearly dubious claim has never been backed by independent research.

Several factors were at work to demonise cannabis in the US which flowed on to other countries, including Australia. The powerful cotton industry was threatened by the amazing qualities of hemp and heavily lobbied the US government, even going as far as producing a propaganda film. In 1937, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the US publicly blamed most of the crime in the country on the humble weed.

More than 80 years on, hundreds of thousands of people world wide have been jailed and governments and police have spent billions of dollars maintaining this prohibition in countries such as Australia that still declare it illegal. But one of the costs of the prohibition is the unavailability of medical marijuana in Australia for people suffering with cancer, epilepsy, AIDS, MS, or any number of conditions that cannabis alleviates.

medical marijuana clinic
Above: Medical marijuana clinics, like this one in Denver Colorado US, may appear in Australia if Australian laws change.

At present, 18 states in the US, plus the District of Columbia, allow the use of medical marijuana and a further 10 states are considering it. The Real of Caring in Colorado, US is an example of one organisation supplying concentrated medicinal cannabis oil for people with debilitating conditions. There is growing community support for medicinal marijuana in Australia, with close to 70% of the population believing it has a place in the spectrum of medical treatments offered to patients.

Even the Cancer Council of NSW publically acknowledges that cannabis may be of medical benefit to cancer patients where conventional treatments are unsuccessful. The most common occasions include relieving nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy, for pain relief and as an appetite stimulant for cancer patients experiencing weight loss and muscle wasting.

But so far it has come down to a community activist, Tony Bowers and his Mullaways Medical Cannabis to openly challenge the law by providing cannabis tincture on compassionate grounds to assist people suffering with distressing conditions.

Following a television show early in 2013 focusing on Tony Bowers’ work, police swooped in to arrest him and he was duly sentenced to a 12-months jail for his defiant, some say, compassionate stand. A quick visit to the Mullaways website is an enlightening experience. From the tagline; Zero Tolerance to Pain & Suffering, it is clear that the man and his medicine is helping hundreds, possibly thousands of Australians who would otherwise be living in pain.

Above: Today Tonight story featuring an interview with Tony Bower and a family using Mullaways Cannabinoid Tinctures.

marijuana medicineRight: Tony Bowers, Director of Mullaways Medical Cannabis, with the cannabinoid tincture medicine which is made from cannabis.

Eco Citizen Australia knows of one such family. A young girl requiring full time care, special schooling and suffering from regular fits. When the father was asked what made them come to try medical marijuana treatment he replied, ”We have pretty much tried everything else. 12 medications, VNS implant, diets and looked at radical brain surgery, which the doctors were putting on the table again. This would involve removing almost quarter of her brain and could radically change who she is with no guarantee that the seizures will stop.“

He went on to say, “Apart from it not being legal, the lack of knowledge and research among the medical profession and people’s perceptions and judgements about marijuana are problems for ongoing treatment in Australia.”

If the majority of Australians agree that this drug has a place in medicine, why is the government not keeping up with the will of the people? Clearly there are opposing forces still at play. Big pharmacy alternatives to medical cannabis can cost up to $500 a month for patients. Logically, they could be considered a possible opponent, as are politicians looking for votes with a “tough on drugs” stance.

It’s time for Australian politicians to consider medicinal cannabis on its merits. It is not a “first-line medicine” (the first medication to be prescribed when a patient is diagnosed with a particular condition), but it is a proven, useful drug. Society’s obsession with the possibility that a drug could be used recreationally should not forbid the compassionate, medical use of cannabis to reduce the suffering of people with serious conditions.

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