Published: 21 April 2015

[11:44 am]

Ms Forrest (Murchison) - Mr President, I do not intend to speak at length about this report because most of what was needed to be said was said when we noted the interim report.



Following the tabling of the interim report, the committee made the observation that a lot of things were moving on and changing in this area, particularly at the Commonwealth level where a bill had been tabled - the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2014.  It was a private bill but it was co-sponsored by the Greens, by a Liberal Senator, a Liberal Democrat and a Labor Senator.  With that broad, cross-party support, it is very clear that the bill, in some form, will be accepted at some stage by the Commonwealth and by the Australian Parliament.


That bill essentially seeks to set up a regulatory body to regulate the use of medicinal cannabis.  Whatever comes out of that process, and whatever bill ends up being supported or otherwise in the Australian Parliament, it will require legislative change in Tasmania to facilitate the decision of that Parliament.  In view of that, and also the decision and the commencement of the clinical trials by the New South Wales Government - which is one of the things that our committee also called for - the work that needed to be done to progress this matter is starting.


The committee had a view that if we were to continue the inquiry under the terms of reference of the committee, we would be going over the same ground as what we had already looked at, and it could well change in the future based on the decisions of the Australian Parliament.  The decision was taken to conclude this inquiry and then, if another inquiry is needed later on, subsequent to the passage of the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill, in whatever form that may be, then a further inquiry would be proposed with obviously different and more specific terms of reference relating to that.  That is the reason why the committee decided to conclude the inquiry and produce this interim report.


Our final report makes it very clear that the interim report is the final report.  It is not that the interim report does not matter, it does.  That is the report of the committee and is the final report of the committee.  In so doing, we also noted that the Commonwealth's Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2014 has been tabled and is now before a committee of the Australian Parliament.  That bill seeks to establish an independent regulator responsible for licensing, growing, manufacturing and distributing medicinal cannabis.  They have had some hearings for that committee process.  I am not sure what their time frame is, but things will probably move a bit more slowly in that Parliament, as happens here at times when there is a committee looking at a bill.


Regardless of what comes out of that process, legislative change will be required in Tasmania if Tasmanians are to legally access medicinal cannabis in the future.  Even with the proposed changes to the scheduling of cannabis or cannabinoids from schedule 9, which is a prohibited substance, to schedule 4, likely to occur on 1 June, that will not make medicinal cannabis available to Tasmanians or Australians.  All that does is reschedule it, which means it is easier then to undertake research, which is really important.  Research needs to be done, particularly on the long-term effects of medicinal cannabis use.  There has been very little research done in that area, and in other areas.  Whilst cannabinoids, and other substances of cannabis that have a therapeutic benefit, remain a schedule 9 product, you cannot do research in the way it needs to be done to get meaningful results.


The recommendations made in the interim report still stand, and there are still people out there desperate for some relief - children with intractable epilepsy and people suffering from rare forms of cancer and the effects of chemotherapy.  Unfortunately, I think they have been a little bit misled by the recent publicity around the notice at the stock exchange given by Capital Mining saying they were going to buy out part of one of our Tasmanian companies that will be able to extract cannabinoids from cannabis plants and industrial hemp.  The way in which the media has reported that would indicate it is a done deal - it is not.  There is a lot of water to go under the bridge in regard to that.  Even if it were to happen and that company were bought out, they would still need to get permits from the state and the Commonwealth to even extract the product, let alone to process it.  The permits they are given will determine whether they can only be used for research or can be commercialised and put into a medicinal product.


There is still a lot of work to do - a lot of permits and processes that need to be ongoing for anyone in Tasmania to be able to access this product.  Even if all those processes happen, even if the permit is granted by the state, and the permit is granted by the Commonwealth to the Therapeutic Goods Administration process, we still need change to Tasmanian legislation and regulation to enable that.


Cannabis is still a prohibited substance under the Poisons Act and the poisons regulations mean it cannot be prescribed, except sativex and a couple of other uses which are very narrowly defined and are particularly for multiple sclerosis.


Regardless of what happens through that rescheduling, if patients in Tasmania are to access medicinal cannabis, we need legislative reform.  Whilst the Government and the police assure us they are not going to prosecute people, when you have a law that requires police to ignore a law, that is wrong.  We should fix that.


Maybe they are not going to prosecute the mothers of children who are administering it to their children, or individuals taking it for their own medicinal use for severe nausea as a result of the side effects of chemotherapy for example.  However, the issue is that even if the health care workers who assist with the administration in child care centres may have been told police will not prosecute, they are committing an offence under our existing law.


Should we have some more aggressive approach by a particular police officer, for example, who was going to apply the letter of the law, a nurse would lose her registration.  You will not be re-registered if you have a criminal conviction.  That is the end of it, you have broken a Poisons Act regulation.  It does not get much simpler than that.  You will not be re-registered.  I was interviewed on the ABC about this matter and raised this issue about healthcare workers.  Mothers are not so worried.  They will do what they believe is best for their child.  If the police are going to ignore that, then that is fine by them.  They are not going to end up in prison, they are not going to lose anything except they will perhaps receive a slap on the wrist.  For nurses whose livelihood and career relies on their registration, it is an issue.  We need to see that changed.  That continues to be a major concern and it is a recommendation of the committee as part of this final report.


Some of the recommendations are already in process, so I will be keen to hear from the Government now or at a later date, but I am sure since the tabling of the interim report there would have been time to provide some level of response.


The committee was very keen to see the Tasmanian Government cooperating with New South Wales in terms of the research that is going on and hopefully it will enable some of our Tasmanian people currently using medicinal cannabis to be part of those trials.  You need as many people as possible in these trials to make them meaningful and credible.


I will be interested to hear from the Government now, or very soon, about what is happening.  The reason we chose not to put the committee on hold and wait for the outcomes of this research, the trials that are going on in New South Wales and the regulation of medicinal cannabis bill before the Australian Parliament, is that we would like a response from the Government as to where they are headed with this.  They have said they will await the final report, which is unfortunate, and the previous government used to take the same approach.  They would not respond to interim reports.  They wanted a final.  Here is the final, so let us get a response.  Hopefully we will get that.


I am not going to speak about the previous interim report, because that still stands, and is still current and relevant because it is part of this report.


I look forward to hearing from the Government about where we are headed with this.  It is very important that we do not give the community false expectations and false hope in any way about the likely accessibility of cannabis, legally for medicinal use, in the near future.  It may be rescheduled to schedule 4, and then I hope, if the Government is serious about progressing this, we will see rescheduling in our Poisons Act.  Until it is rescheduled through our poisons regulations at least, nothing can happen anyway.  That will be a sign of good faith, and I am sure that if the rescheduling goes through, it will be the next thing we can hope to see.  It will be initially gazetted and we will see it through the Subordinate Legislation Committee process.


I thank the committee secretariat, particularly Jenny Leaman for her hard work on both the interim and now the final report, and the committee members for their work.  It was a very interesting committee process.  We all learnt a lot, as you always do in a committee of any sort.  It is something that we may need to revisit in the future, depending on what comes out of the Australian Parliament, but it would be with different terms of reference if necessary.  This is a matter of great public interest.  I am sure other members, when they get out and about in their electorates, hear people asking, 'What is going on?  When is this happening?  We really want some change here.'


When that announcement was made by Capital Mining to the stock exchange - I think it was Thursday or Friday last week - the media was all over it.  I had phone calls about it.  I was at a Public Accounts Committee conference with the honourable member for Elwick, and I said I have not seen anything.  I quickly made a couple of phone calls, got hold of the stock exchange announcement and realised that it is a long way from even an agreement, let alone being able to progress the extraction, and possibly only for research purposes.


If we are to see it used beyond that in Tasmania, we would have to have legislative change.  We also need the rescheduling at the federal level and we also need permits for a company, whoever that may be, to extract cannabinoids from industrial hemp and/or other cannabis products.  Hopefully those will be of a nature that would enable not just the research to be conducted, but for the processing and commercialisation of the product.  It is not until we get to that point that we can have a reliable, consistent, safe and usable product for people to be prescribed by their medical practitioner.  I see that is the only way it would work.  If it is rescheduled as a Schedule 4 medication, that will be the case, because it is medication that is scheduled to only be prescribed.  You cannot buy Schedule 4 medication over the counter, it has to be by prescription only.  Hence we will need those frameworks changed in our legislation to facilitate that.


We need to make it clear to the public after what was reported in the media late last week and over the weekend, that if members of the public think it is suddenly going to become available, it is not.  We need to be very clear to people about that because there will be some disappointed people out there.  If they see the front page of The Advocate on whatever day it was, between Friday and yesterday, they would have you believe it is about to happen, and it is not.


I hope when we are out and about in our electorates we can make it clear to people that is the case.  I will do what I can to facilitate this process, but there is a lot of process well outside my control and the control of this place before we get to that point.


Mr President, I note the final report, which contains and includes the interim report of the committee.


Go Back