A controversial NSW proposal for a government trial of medicinal cannabis will only go ahead if it gets federal government support.
NSW Premier Bob Carr told the NSW Parliament in early May that he has written to the Prime Minister, John Howard, asking for his assistance in setting up the trial, which was first announced a year ago.
Mr Carr said there was strong evidence that cannabis could help with nausea from HIV and cancer treatments, severe and chronic pain, AIDS-related wasting and several other medical conditions including multiple sclerosis and spinal injury. The NSW government commissioned a report into the matter in 2000, leading to last year’s announcement of a limited trial.
But plans have stalled because the government’s preferred delivery method, a metered-dose inhaler or spray, is still years away from being available, and the government “is opposed to any scheme which involves growing cannabis in backyards or requiring sick people to buy it on the black market.”
Mr Carr acknowledged that, as some people need access to alternative treatments now, exploring options was important. These could include importing drug products produced legally in Canada.
“The NSW Government has no intention of decriminalising cannabis use,” he said. “That means we need to look at the alternatives, and that in turn requires co-operation from the Commonwealth and, I hope, from the other states and territories.”
Importing cannabis products from Canada, where clinical trials of medicinal cannabis have been underway since 1999, would require changes to federal customs and therapeutic drug approval laws. Medicinal cannabis is also legally available in eight US states and many parts of Europe.
The NSW Opposition Leader, John Brogden, said that he had no idea why Mr Carr thought it necessary to import the drug from Canada, and argued that the drug could be grown locally under strictly supervised conditions. Mr Carr acknowledged that such a scheme could be possible, but said “it would be easier to get a container load from Canada and distribute it according to people who are registered.”
When the trial was announced last year, Mr Howard indicated he would support it, but only if the drug was provided in a non-smokeable form, and provided people were not allowed to grow it.
A spokesman from the Prime Minister’s office told ABC News that Mr Howard has not yet seen Mr Carr’s letter and had no comment at this stage.