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Medicinal marijuana debate: Queensland couple who used cannabis oil to treat son’s autism walk free

Medical help: “The Church continues to pray for those who are suffering and welcomes any new medically proven forms of medication that can offer relief.”

In countries across the world the jury is still out on the effects of drugs on society and individuals’ health, however a case in Queensland reflects softening attitudes and changing laws against some drugs.

QUEENSLAND parents who pleaded guilty to treating their five-year-old son’s autism with cannabis oil, recently walked free from court in what the judge described as an “almost-unique” case.

Jamie Blake 31, and Stephanie Mackay 26, faced sentencing in Rockhampton Supreme Court on multiple drug-related offences – including aggravated supply of dangerous drugs to a minor – yet they received small fines and no convictions.

Police raided the couple’s Calliope home south of Gladstone in November last year and found three cannabis plants, as well as other illegal production materials.

Mr Blake launched an online petition, with the backing of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Group, Queensland, urging the Department of Prosecutions to drop the charges, and a fundraising page that raised more than $10,000 to cover their legal costs.

In handing down his sentences on December 10, Justice Graeme Crow accepted a submission the couple was “trying to do the right thing” by their son, and that red tape making it difficult for families like theirs to access medicinal cannabis could soon be cut.

“Your offending comes from altruistic objectives – that of you trying to care for your child,” Justice Crow said.

“That law may well be changed next year and if it is, then of course you would access the medical treatment that is allowable by law to assist your son as any father would.

Limited access

It’s estimated 100,000 Australians currently use cannabis for medicinal purposes – obtaining it from underground sources to treat chronic pain, epilepsy, nausea from chemotherapy, as well as autism.

However cannabis access in Australia remains limited, and requires a lengthy procedure to apply for a medical prescription. 

It requires a medical practitioner to complete an online application to the Therapeutic Goods Administration on behalf of a patient.

Figures show that by last month, the TGA had approved 2339 special access scheme applications for medicinal cannabis, including 568 approvals last month alone.

Only about 50 doctors across the country are approved as authorised prescribers.

That is not nearly enough according to Dr Bastian Seidel, president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who is frustrated that so few patients are being given the option to access medicinal cannabis and so few of the 38,000 doctors in Australia are prescribing it. 

In June he told the ABC’s 7.30 program medical marijuana was still “pretty much inaccessible” for those who need it.

“The hurdles are still in place,” Dr Seidel said.

“It is frustrating for us because medicinal cannabis might be an option of last resort for patients where we’ve tried absolutely everything in the book.

“If your GP thinks you would benefit from medicinal cannabis as a treatment of last resort, then your GP should be allowed to prescribe it.”

Australia relies on imported medicinal cannabis to meet patient demands – and that is proving a major supply stumbling block.

Legislation that permits the legal cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes was passed in Australia in February 2016, and only now are governments responding to the potential health outcomes for patients and communities, but also acknowledging the business opportunities estimated to be worth $1 billion by 2025.

South Australia’s Minister for Industry and Skills David Pisoni, told The Future of Medicinal Cannabis symposium last month that his state saw the potential for medicinal cannabis and it extended far beyond cultivation.

 “It’s not just about growing cannabis but more about South Australia being perfectly placed to engage in the sophisticated production, processing, manufacturing and commercialisation of a pharmaceutical-grade product,” he said.

“There is significant public interest and support for the medicinal use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products arising from reports of symptomatic benefit in a range of medical conditions,”

The medicinal cannabis producer LeafCann Group is already committed to meeting domestic demand and entering the lucrative international market.

“Our vision is to establish South Australia as the centre of excellence for education, research, industry innovation and development for the global cannabis sector,” LeafCann founder and chief executive officer Elisabetta Faenza said.

World markets

Around the world, medicinal cannabis is one of the fastest emergent markets, valued at US$7.7 billion in 2016, by market research firm Brightfield Group.

As well as Australia, countries that have legalised medical use of cannabis include the UK, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sri Lanka.

Uruguay and Canada are the only countries that have fully legalised the consumption and sale of recreational cannabis nationwide. 

In 2012, Uruguay announced it would be the first country in the world to legalise recreational cannabis use, a move in part, aimed at replacing links between organised crime and the cannabis trade with more accountable state regulation.

Since then Canada has also fully legalised the consumption and sale of recreational cannabis.

In the United States, 10 states and the District of Columbia have fully legalised cannabis.

What does the Church say about medical cannabis?

Archbishop Mark Coleridge
Archbishop Mark Coleridge: “Therapeutic use of a drug is the use of a chemical substance to resolve a physical problem.”

There is no problem with the use of medicinal cannabis if it’s used in a “genuine medical process”, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has told The Catholic Leader.

Archbishop Coleridge said health care professionals must take the potential risks of medicinal cannabis into account in the same way that they might consider the risks of prescribing other potentially addictive medications.

“Therapeutic use of a drug is the use of a chemical substance to resolve a physical problem,” he said.

“Abuse of use of the same drug is the use of a chemical substance to solve a problem which at its heart is spiritual. 

“That never works. It always ends up being destructive. 

“The Church continues to pray for those who are suffering and welcomes any new medically proven forms of medication that can offer relief.”

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