Excessive Regulation Keeps Illegal Cannabis Markets in the Black!

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Since 2012 many American states and Canada legalised use and sale of recreational Cannabis. An expected benefit of legalisation is establishment of a legal Cannabis market to eliminate the black-market. Even though legal options are available for Cannabis producers and consumers, the black-market is still thriving. The reasons behind the persistence of the Cannabis black-market are complex but one main argument is, legalised states have failed to establish a regulatory framework which effectively keeps producers and consumers in the legal market. Instead, strict regulations and the high cost of compliance have created an environment favourable to big players, driving small-scale businesses to the black-market. Published in July 2019 the study, Effects of Regulation Intensity on Marijuana* Black-Market After Legalisation (the Oregon study), found excessive US state regulations may be the reason illegal Cannabis markets continue to exist post-legalisation. The research looked at data from the first two US states to end Cannabis prohibition, Colorado and Washington.

“The qualitative analysis of news reports reveals that regulation is one of the main reasons that people stay in the illicit market. The comparison of marijuana* crime trends in Colorado and Washington shows mixed findings. While -offence rates in Colorado largely remained steady over the years, those in Washington increased dramatically after the implementation of more intensive regulations”.

Meanwhile, in ‘Cannabis-legal’ California, in July 2019, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department served search warrants on 56 illegal Cannabis cultivation sites. Spearheaded by 390 law enforcement personnel, whose mission was to combat the ongoing problem of illegal Cannabis cultivation sites throughout California, the raids resulted in:

  • 47,939 Cannabis plants confiscated
  • 2,132 pounds of processed Cannabis
  • 47 tons of Cannabis plants disposed
  • 2 Butane Honey Oil Labs located
  • 71 firearms
  • 49 arrests

Illegal cultivation is far from just a California problem, however. If Oregon halted Cannabis production today, the state would not experience a shortage; it has a six-year surplus! But, US states that legalised recreational Cannabis with the intent of re-imagining the vast underground market as an above-board business to bolster state economies via transparent dealings have been disappointed as, to date, the US Federal Government has refused to budge regarding Cannabis’ status as an illegal Schedule 1 substance. One of the tenets of legalising Cannabis is stemming the proliferation of black-market suppliers and reducing negative effects of the ‘war on drugs’, particularly on minorities. These positive impetuses have yet to flourish as a result of the illegal status of Cannabis at US federal level leaving Cannabis-legal states to operate as islands. Taking legally purchased Cannabis from a legal to an illegal state is not only illegal, but confusing and a recipe for complications, leaving Cannabis-legal states vulnerable in an environment extremely hospitable to black-market activity.

US states that legalised production have inadvertently made it easier for illegal producers to hide in plain sight where the line between legal and illegal operations blurs. Black-market growers in legal states destabilise the market as legitimate companies pay taxes and jump through every legal hoop and cannot compete. This creates frustrations for law enforcement and cuts into the legal trade. But putting the genie of legalised recreational Cannabis back in the bottle simply isn’t feasible for operational, financial and political reasons in North America. With the proliferation of attendant illegal operations it is however becoming clearer that some form of US federal legalisation is inevitable. In legal states, growers, sellers and consumers have legitimate channelsto produce, trade and obtain Cannabis, and as such, illegal avenues should diminish, yet research shows they havent disappeared. A 2018 report found 18% of Cannabis consumers in California purchased Cannabis products from an unlicensed seller.

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An association between how intense state Cannabis-related regulations are and the extent of the remaining illegal market has been investigated. In Washington (from June 2016) and in Colorado (from November 2015 and January 2017 [in 2017 Colorado lawmakers passed new rules regarding labelling and packaging of Cannabis flower and trim, concentrates and other products]), most people grew or sold illegally due to “strict regulations and the high cost associated with the compliance … ‘over-regulation’, ‘cost of compliance’, ‘high taxes’ … Other reasons for staying in the illegal market included market fluctuations and organised crime. Washington’s crime rate increased after the state introduced more regulations. “In 2014 and 2015, marijuana* crime rates/100,000 residents were around 26. This number increased to >28 incidents in 2016. In 2017, 2,628 -crimes were reported, making the annual crime rate 35.96/capita”. Colorado did not see any significant short/long-term changes to its Cannabis-related crime rates after they implemented new regulations. 

“Although the findings are not conclusive, the results of Washington data show regulation intensity may be one of the main factors that influences or explains the persistence of illegal Cannabis transactions after the legalisation”, and, “The fact that Washington’s black-market kept growing after the implementation of more complex and sophisticated regulations at least indicates a correlation between regulation intensity and the increase of the black-market …”, the Oregon study stated.

Similar findings were not reported in Colorado suggesting “the magnitude of illicit marijuana* activities may be affected by regulation intensity …”. These results raise questions about “possible adverse effect of intensive regulations to researchers and policy-makers”. If one of the goals of Cannabis legalisation is to eliminate the unregulated market, it’s important lawmakers consider the implications of unnecessarily strict rules and focus on creating an “equitable and accessible market that allows the coexistence of both large and small businesses. The cost of compliance to regulations should be reduced to remove the barriers of establishing a legal -business”, the study concluded, and, “future policies should also pay more attention to cracking down on persistent illegal growers/ sellers and organised crime groups unwilling to participate in the legal market”.  Thus, the question may no longer be, should the US legalise Cannabis federally, but, howA path forward needs to be found. Cobbling together a pastiche of laws inevitably bolsters black-market activity as quasi-legislation at state level provides neither a check nor balance. The most likely next step for US public health, stemming black-market activity and generating maximum revenues is comprehensive national legalisation, sooner rather than later.

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In Australia, Cannabis legislation remains incredibly complicated despite changes to the Narcotic Drugs Act in 2016, to purportedly allow Cannabis to be legally grown for medical and scientific purposes. The uptake of ‘medicinal Cannabis’ has been slow, with access incredibly difficult due to long waiting periods, high costs and uninformed doctors. Canada legalised Cannabis, 17 October 2018, with ‘medicinal Cannabis’ available since 2001. However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association reported in 2018, “The way the Federal Government has decided to pursue legalisation of Cannabis is concerning. Many Canadians think … Cannabis will be legal – maybe not legal like buying milk or eggs – but something akin to alcohol, or tobacco. The belief is Cannabis will be a tightly regulated substance that people of a certain age are pretty much entrusted to use as they see fit. This is a mistake. There are a raft of new criminal offences … The fact you have a patchwork of provincial, territorial and municipal laws and by-laws that interact with the federal criminal prohibitions means something that’s perfectly legal at home may be a crime when you’re visiting your friend in another city”.

“As of 2016, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that some 10.4% of the total population used Cannabis and that the tolerance for regular use had risen from 9.8% to 14.5% between 2013 and 2016. It is not completely unrealistic that the number of recreational users could double as a percentage of the population over the next decade, although this would be tempered by the fact that many users are likely to remain light or occasional users”, said Prohibition Partners Head of Insights, Alexandra Curley. In January 2018 the Australian Federal Government announced plans to become the fourth country in the world to legalise ‘medicinal Cannabis’ exports. Shares soared for the >20 Cannabis producers on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and Cannabis Jobs Australia estimated by 2028 there would be 50,000 Cannabis jobs in Australia. The climate makes it the perfect place for growth with a potential for two crops a year in areas with high sunlight.

“Australia boasts an optimum climate for growing some strains of Cannabis that are expensive to produce in more established markets such as Canada. This, coupled with anticipated changes to the law, will create an environment that will enable the region to capitalise on strong growth within the industry. That’s going to make Australia a very attractive proposition to investors”, Alexandra Curley, Prohibition Partners.

The bill that would legalise Cannabis for personal use in the ACT could be passed next week.

However, growers are unable to use the outdoor environment according to Barry Lambert, chairman of Ecofibre, an industrial hemp company. “On the growing side, we can only grow it indoors … Compare that to where we (Ecofibre) grow in the US … outdoors under the Kentucky sun”, he said. According to Statistics Canada, close to 5.4 million Canadians will buy Cannabis over the next 12 months. The US is also a growing market for exporters where sales grew by 30% in 2016 to US$6.7 b, without it being legal nationwide. The US now makes up 90% of the Cannabis stock trade, which can only go up with federal legislation. But Mr Lambert said there was no market in those countries for Cannabis exporters. “Who are they going to export it to? America, you can buy it over the counter at a fraction of the price. Canada, it has been legal for some time to sell Cannabis and they are trying to export it”

HLB Mann Judd (Accounting and Financial firm) partner Marcus Ohm says there are a lot of uncertainties in the industry. “Australia is at an early stage in relation to the regulatory environment relative to other jurisdictions … countries vary on whether marijuana* is illegal, permitted for medicinal purposes or permitted for recreational and medicinal use. Australia has eased some aspects … but compared to the US (state level) and Canada (federal), Australia has narrower applications”Mr Lambert said, “I personally haven’t invested in any other company … and I see no reason why I would …”, further stating most of the companies on the stock exchange are not making money, but spending it. “Australian companies will find it very hard ever to make a dollar … There’s no revenue and they’re spending millions …”.

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President of the Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance, James Vosper, said, “There is a lot of investment in the industry but there have been some issues with people getting access to medicines so therefore the number of people being treated in Australia isn’t as high as it could be”Mr Lambert said legalising ‘medicinal Cannabis’ in Australia did absolutely nothing for promotion of the industry. There are two reasons. One … no demand for the product because the rules around getting the product are unworkable … no doctor understands it because they aren’t trained … until 2016 it had been illegal. Secondly, there’s been no research in this country because it’s been illegal. So, doctors don’t know about it, therefore they don’t prescribe it”Mr Lambert said the US system allowed for ‘medicinal Cannabis’ to be sold over the counter, a system Australia needed to adopt. Without that the industry was dead before it even began.

“We don’t believe that the prescription system works. And, therefore, those medical Cannabis companies are going to find it very hard or impossible to be successful and that their solution is adoption of the American system”, Barry Lambert, Ecofibre.

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Others remain more optimistic, with Mr Vosper saying the future looked bright. “I think Australia has a great future in this industry. The whole world is moving towards an organic model and Australia has half of the world’s organic farmland. Put that with a great reputation for products and you have a great future in the medicinal Cannabis industry”The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government passed laws in September 2019 that essentially fully decriminalised Cannabis under certain and very specific conditions.  When the legislation comes into effect on 31 January, 2020, it will be legal, under ACT law, for adults in Canberra to grow, smoke and own small amounts of Cannabis (50 grams). But the Commonwealth has laws of its own in this area and those laws explicitly prohibit possessing any quantity of Cannabis (with the exception of ‘medicinal Cannabis’, a completely separate thing). Introduced by Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson in 2018, to legalise possession of 50 grams of Cannabis for adults, the ACT Government stated, 

“It is important to note that, even after the passage of this bill, possessing and growing Cannabis will carry a degree of risk arising from interactions between territory and Commonwealth law”. Mr Pettersson said, “In order to reduce harm and stigma, we need to make sure that people can feel free to come forward and get help. In order to do this, we need to remove the penalties and charges associated with the possession and use of small amounts of Cannabis …”.

Across the ditch (from Australia) in New Zealand, Cannabis is classified as an illegal ‘drug’ under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and possession, use and supply are subject variously to penalties ranging from fines to many years imprisonment. The Helen Clark (former Prime Minister of New Zealand and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy) Foundation, released a report setting out the case for legalising and regulating Cannabis. The prospect of invoking criminal sanctions has had little impact on people’s behaviour as longitudinal studies indicate by age 25, 80% of New Zealanders had tried Cannabis at least once. Simply, prohibition-based policy approaches have not eradicated and will not eradicate Cannabis consumption and supply in New Zealand or anywhere else where use is established. The New Zealand Referendum due in 2020 will be to legalise and regulate. Decriminalisation is not expected to be an option.Image result for new zealand cannabis

Helen Clark herself stated, “The time has come for New Zealand to face up to the widespread use and supply of Cannabis in the country and to legalise and regulate it accordingly. No useful purpose is served by maintaining its illegal status. A “yes” vote in the 2020 referendum will be positive for social justice and equity, contribute to reducing the country’s excessively large prison population and enable those health issues associated with Cannabis to be dealt with upfront. These are the reasons why I support legalisation”. However, in legalising and regulating in New Zealand, it will be important not to create another ‘big tobacco’ or ‘big alcohol’. Both industries fought and continue to fight efforts to reduce harm they cause, including regulation of access, product promotion and taxation aimed at disincentivising use.

503e589cab97b59cc53421127b6291af_400x400On the weighted score for harms of drugs in the United Kingdom developed by scientist David Nutt, former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and colleagues, published in the Lancet in 2010, Cannabis is assessed as immensely less harmful to those who use it and to others, than is alcohol. Various other rankings concur Cannabis use is significantly less problematic for individual health than either tobacco or alcohol. The classification of drugs  pursuant to international drug conventions, however, is based on more cultural and political factors than scientific evidence. Those classifications have scarred the lives of countless millions of people worldwide, caught up in the criminal net cast over what is deemed to be illegal ‘drug’ possession, use and supply. It is not surprising, therefore, a growing number of jurisdictions have been moving away from the prohibitionist approach promoted by the international conventions.

Countries and individual states/provinces/territories have legalised possession, use and supply of Cannabis. Other jurisdictions have decriminalised personal possession and use. President of New Zealand’s criminal lawyers’ society supports legalising Cannabis for personal use and says existing law criminalises too many people. Len Andersen, Criminal Bar Association President, said banning Cannabis created demand for more harmful drugs, including synthetic ‘cannabinoids​’, implicated in at least 70 deaths. Mr Andersen said prohibition put otherwise law-abiding people who chose to use Cannabis “in the position of constant illegality”. The Association said its membership comprised 700 practising criminal lawyers across New Zealand. “I think most members would support legalisation of Cannabis for personal use”, Andersen said. An amendment to New Zealand’s Misuse of Drugs Act directed police only to prosecute those using ‘drugs’ when there is ‘public interest’. The New Zealand Federal Government has been clear it wants to take a health and well-being-based approach. Drug law reform, including legalisation of Cannabis, helps meet both objectives.

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The ‘war on drugs’ has failed. In Australia, 35% have tried Cannabis, but this choice could earn a criminal record, just for having a small amount of Cannabis in your possession (or system). This ‘tough on drugs’ approach causes enormous harm, driving people away from getting help and exposing them to a dangerous black-market. From Uruguay to Spain, New Zealand to the US and Canada, countries around the world are realising prohibition causes more harm than it prevents. Cannabis use is a health issue, not a criminal one. Legalising Cannabis use would reduce harm, increase protection for vulnerable people and break the business model of criminal gangs. World-wide, the Cannabis ‘cake’ should be big enough for everybody; corporates, government/s, home-growers, not-for-profits and the most-oft-forgotten sick and suffering, to get a slice. It’s all in how you carve it up, and it could and should be, equitable. The world has seen enough of the double-standards, mass-hypocrisy and worst of all, ignorance of science fact, because it is not profitable. It is way past time to put people before profits and free Cannabis from the constraints of prohibitionistic regulations and the out-and-out lies that have besmirched this wonderfully efficacious herb for far too long! Save lives and legalise!

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Adapted from Heavy Regulations Allow Illegal Marijuana Sales to Persist, Study Argues with Effects of Regulation Intensity on Marijuana Black-Market After LegalizationStemming the Cannabis Black-MarketTHE BLUNT TRUTH, Cannabis prohibition doesn’t work anywhere. It’s New Zealand’s turn to legalise itLaws to legalise cannabis for personal use in the ACT could pass next weekCannabis laws bound for the courtroom to work out whether ACT or Commonwealth is rightLegalise weed, criminal lawyer group president says and Legalise It

*marijuana – Cannabis sativa is the correct botanical term for the plant, the term marijuana is a North American colloquialism, at best.

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Australian Legal ‘Medicinal Cannabis’, Overpriced and Difficult to Obtain

It is estimated that close to a million patients are now seeking access to ‘medicinal Cannabis’ in Australia. Australian government figures show around 20,000 patients now have approvals for access to legal ‘medicinal Cannabis’ products. The Medical Cannabis Users Association of Australia Inc. (MCUA) reports many patients are still having to turn to the ‘black’ market or are self supplying because, access to and cost of, the majority of legal ‘medicinal Cannabis’ products is way beyond their financial reach. This is happening in Queensland, for example, partly because public hospital policy does not permit its doctors to prescribe Cannabis-based products.

The MCUA states the rate of approvals has increased substantially with a mushrooming of corporate clinics set up to move products that had been languishing on warehouse shelves because General Practitioners (GP’s) were refusing to prescribe ‘medical Cannabis’. These clinics have the sole purpose of prescribing corporate ‘Cannabis’-based products and have become the gateway to moving these over-priced, often longitudinally untested pharmaceuticals off the shelves. It appears these clinics are given ‘special treatment’ in this highly regulated environment as the MCUA noted when CEO of ‘medical Cannabis’ company, THC, David Radford said on Sky News;

“… We are working with individual state governments to get their approvals (for clinics) … not the same as a health clinic that you go through so we are not expecting the same regulatory hurdles …”.

The current modus operandi of the clinics when communicating with ‘patients’ is an offering of either/or teleconferencing and face to face consultations with doctors who it is being alleged have no prior experience using or prescribing ‘Cannabis’-based medicine in a clinical situation and who also have had limited training via educational videos and ‘medical Cannabis’ company backup. Some patients have said to the MCUA that consultation processes have been amateur in approach. In some cases, no medical history of the patient was recorded and prospective patients weren’t even asked about current medications or allergies they might have. As to consultation fees the MCUA report these can vary enormously between clinics.

The majority of ‘medical Cannabis’ patients do not receive a Medicare rebate and on average, patients are charged fees by third parties of around $200 to apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) online (a process for which there is no fee attached if one registers directly). Other costs,  it is reported, vary from <$100 to >$1,000 for an initial consultation and an application for ‘medical Cannabis’. Due to the increasing number of complaints about these clinics the MCUA is conducting a patient satisfaction survey asking about patient experiences overall with the delivery model set up by the Australian Federal Government. Responses to their survey have been consistent throughout with +45% of patients saying they are paying up to $500-$1,000 a month for products.Image result for australian medical cannabis products

Most survey respondents are on Centrelink payments because of their illness and some have got themselves into debt with family or friends to enable them to purchase the medicine. Almost half of the prescriptions written have not been filled. Peter Crock, CEO of the Cann Group and Chairman of Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia reinforces this scenario.  He said on ABC radio that, “All medicinal Cannabis is being imported … that is what is keeping prices high … and people are taking the opportunity to make super profits on the way through”. Many survey respondents say they have had more than one approval with 20% saying they have had more than five approvals. The dissatisfaction rate with the delivery system is consistently 86% .

Patient experiences gathered via the survey include the following;

  • One MCUA member reported being charged $700.00 in consultation fees and product for her fathers palliative medicine. The product was delivered in November 2019, a six week supply of Cannabis oil with an expiry date of October 2019. They were told the family GP would need to sign off on the prescription and treatment would not begin until the Clinic doctor saw the GP because the state owned aged-care facility could not give out-of-date medicine. The woman’s dying father was denied medicine to make his passing easier. 
  • Another wrote they were worried their Cannabis clinic was ‘taking them for a ride’. Their first prescribed medicine was bought as two 25 ml bottles to avoid an extra $50 for shipping. The first script cost $633.30, the next $330.30 due to the distributor lowering the cost. After three months the ‘patient’ had to pay the clinic to write a new script, which needed to be approved again by the TGA. When the clinic couldn’t get the same product they had to re-apply for TGA approval and supplied a different product altogether at a cost of $540.00 for two bottles (50 ml). The cost to use on a daily basis was initially (February 2019) an average of $15.20. When the price dropped it reduced the daily cost to $7.92 and now the ‘patient’ is paying $16.20 daily. 
  • One said she recently applied for the ‘legal version’, knowing full well it was beyond what she could afford after the initial appointment cost $200.00. Subsequent scripts, she was told, would cost $59.00. It would be $80.00 for a follow-up appointment and $59.00 whenever there was an adjustment to dose or product. Requiring two products, one at $660.00 a month and the other at $300.00 a month, needless to say, she could not afford to fill the scripts and believes this circumstance to be discriminatory against people on low incomes. 
  • And one, with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), degenerative spinal conditions (previous high impact crush injury – L5/4/3), a dislocated neck (C4/3), Scheuermann’s Kyphosis Scoliosis, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), high blood pressure, diabetes, Sarcoidosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), is going blind because of the MS. This 36 year old, on a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Pension, 18 months ago was looking at being an invalid, possibly under palliative care but that simply was not an option as they had children. They researched and made Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO). According to them it was the only reason they did not become wheelchair-bound and paralysed. For $350.00/ounce of black-market Cannabis they could make 250 ml of oil. They used 50 ml ($70.00 worth) a month. Image result for FECO cannabis productsBefore the illegal oil, they took 19 ‘pills’ every morning, 20 at night and another ten throughout the day. They no longer take opioids or other pain-killers except the Cannabis oil which healed the broken back and dislocated neck, when they were told they’d never walk again. They sought approval for legal supply through a prescription, because they go to hospital regularly due to lung and kidney issues, but the hospital won’t let them use their oil because it’s not ‘legal’. They now have a script for legal supply but the bottle of oil is waiting at the pharmacy as they cannot afford it. It’s a THC/CBD blend, 25 ml for $300.00. The doctor said that was the dose for one month. With no way to maintain that cost the ‘patient’ has no option but to continue to make their own oil and run the risk of being raided and prosecuted. Which they were; arrested and charged when caught by police for sending a bottle of home-made medicine to a fellow sufferer. 
  • Another paid $110.00 for two consultations, first with a nurse to see if they met the criteria and second with a doctor to go through the application. They were told they would hear back within a week. After four weeks, they emailed the clinic and got no response. They called the mobile numbers and found they were disconnected, so they wrote a bad review online and looked into reporting the clinic as a scam. The clinic contacted them and asked them to remove the review. In exchange the clinic said they would pay for half the prescription. The full cost was beyond the ‘patient’, so they agreed and drove 1½ hours (round trip) to collect it. The ‘patient’ very quickly worked their way to the maximum dose, without any noticeable impact and was not prepared to spend $385.00 every five days on something that did not work. They were told they would have ongoing follow up care from the team, that they were not going to have to go through the process alone, the entire team was behind them. They never heard from the clinic again. 
  • And yet another at a popular access clinic felt badly treated after commenting about the high cost of the consultations and product. The clinic pharmacist said if they couldn’t afford it to go back to their GP! The ‘patient’ complained to the practice manager and got nowhere. Left without any oil since June, the clinic didn’t care they were not coping, in extreme pain and couldn’t afford to keep paying for consultations, approval applications and the outrageous cost of the oil which they felt was very diluted and not effective at the low dose prescribed. They repeatedly told the clinic they couldn’t afford $450.00 every three weeks on a Disability Pension. They noted that the system is not working and nobody seems to want to help.

Image result for australian medical cannabis productsThis is a small sample. There are many such ‘horror’ stories and MCUA has witnessed firsthand how the system has failed the ill and suffering. There needs to be a review with public input and recommendations made to facilitate a quicker more affordable delivery system. MCUA President, Deb Lynch, is currently waiting for a trial date after being arrested and charged for self-supply following many attempts to acquire a prescription through Queensland (Qld) Health, whose doctors have been advised not to prescribe Cannabis under public hospital policy. Being on a disability pension, there is no way she can afford the costs involved in getting a script from one of these corporate Cannabis clinics.

The MCUA is still seeking patients who have been through the legal process to fill in their Medical Cannabis Access – Patient Satisfaction Survey (2019) which will be forwarded to the Federal Senate, via the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Senator Anne Urquhart, along with their current petition asking for a full review of the delivery system put in place by the Liberal/National Party (LNP). Cannabis is a herbal remedy and trying to squeeze it into the pharmaceutical delivery model will mean that the hold-ups will continue and prices will remain high as companies who have spent millions to get into the market are not turning a profit. The MCUA is asking anyone with an opinion to comment on their petition asking for this review.

The MCUA is contactable via their website.

Image result for australian medical cannabis productsAdapted from Australian Medical Marijuana Patients Find It Difficult To Get and Medical Cannabis Rip Offs result in patients charged with self supply

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Mobile Drug-Testing Devices Doubtful Accuracy and An Australian Cannabis Enquiry Needed

In Australia, thousands are prosecuted every year for Cannabis use while driving. Research at the University of Sydney Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics suggests the devices currently used return both false positives and negatives. This new research calls into question the reliability of the two devices used for mobile ‘drug’ testing (MDT) in New South Wales (NSW) and other Australian states. These devices were used in the prosecution of almost 10,000 Cannabis users for ‘drug driving’ in NSW in 2016 (the last year for which data are available).

Professor Iain McGregor is the Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative.

Professor Iain McGregor, Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative

The study, published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis, found that the devices frequently failed to detect high concentrations of tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC). False negative rates were 9% and 16% for the two devices but they also sometimes gave a positive result when saliva THC concentrations were very low or negligible (false positive rate of 5% and 10%). “Detecting impairment due to Cannabis use is an important goal in promoting road safety but using saliva tests to do this appears fraught with issues”, said Professor Iain McGregor, Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics and senior author of the study.

The study, led by PhD student Thomas Arkell, was part of a larger study  looking at the effects of vaporised Cannabis on drivingIn the same way breathalysers can detect whether a driver has a blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.05%, these devices are meant to detect whether a driver has more than a certain defined amount of THC in saliva. If so, the test should come back positive. Study participants were occasional Cannabis users who consumed two different types of Cannabis or placebo Cannabis on three separate test days.

Participants had saliva tested at baseline and regular intervals after Cannabis consumption using the Securetec DrugWipe and the Draeger DrugTest 5000 – the same types of devices in use around Australia for MDT. The study tested 14 participants on two devices where the participants had vaporised placebo Cannabis, THC-dominant Cannabis, or Cannabis containing equivalent concentrations of THC and cannabidiol (CBD). In all, there were more than 300 separate tests taken. Participants were also tested for driving performance on a state-of-the-art driving simulator. rdt3

As well as using the two MDT test devices, the researchers collected separate saliva samples in order to measure exactly how much THC was in each participant’s saliva at the time of each test. This ‘confirmatory’ test used a highly accurate laboratory mass spectrometer. “What we found was that these test results often came back positive when they should have been negative, or conversely that they came back negative when they should have actually been positive”, Mr Arkell said. 

The study also found measures of accuracy, specificity and sensitivity of the two devices fell below levels recommended by EU authorities. The rationale for mobile drug testing is based on the success of the RBT program pioneered in Australia. But while there is a very clear link between alcohol intake, blood alcohol content measured in a breathalyser and intoxication, THC levels in saliva do not reliably reflect Cannabis intake or ‘intoxication’.

“We should instead be focusing on developing novel methods for detecting drivers who are actually impaired by Cannabis. The two devices used by police in MDT were never designed to measure impairment. Authorities in other jurisdictions, such as Canada, remain far more cautious in their use of such devices”Professor McGregor said. Professor McGregor also said that when people use THC capsules or suppositories, neither of which leave traces of THC in the oral cavity, users have zero THC in their saliva, but can be heavily ‘intoxicated’.rdt2

Additionally, people tested in this study would often feel too impaired to drive two hours after vaporising Cannabis but would give a negative saliva test with the two devices. Conversely other people in the study presented with negligible levels of THC in their saliva and no driving impairment, but tested positive with the MDT devices at the detection thresholds used in the study.  There is also the issue of passive smoking, Professor McGregor said that at least two overseas studies had shown people passively exposed to the Cannabis smoke of others can exhibit salivary levels of THC that would generate a positive test result.

The number of mobile ‘drug’ tests being conducted each year continues to rise, with NSW Police planning to conduct 200,000 of these tests in 2020. Study lead Mr Arkell said; “Given that these tests can cost at least $40 each, and potentially lead to serious life-changing penalties for drivers, it is imperative that these concerns around reliability and accuracy are addressed”. 

Michael Balderstone, President, Australian HEMP Party and Nimbin HEMP Embassy, noted in the September 2019 Nimbin Good Times “There’s a more reliable occupancy rate in jails than hotels and the new Serco prison near Grafton, on track to open next year and employ 600 people, is sure to be a safe investment for Macquarie Bank and the others up to their neck in this sordid business … they created Cannabis cautioning to stop young people getting criminal records and lessen minor pot charges filling the courts”. 

“That enabled the likes of Scomo to argue, ‘We’ve dealt with Cannabis, unless you’re a wicked drug dealer, you just get a caution, a slap on the wrist’. And now it’s a new level of political cunning we’re hearing regularly. ‘We’ve dealt with medical Cannabis, it’s legal now’. Omitting to tell us you have to be almost dead to access the legal mediweed and it’s incredibly ridiculously expensive. And all imported! And you’re not allowed to drive if you use it”.MardiGrass2015

“99% of Australian Cannabis users are unaffected by the medical Cannabis legislation, but politicians act like they’ve dealt with the issue. Reviewing the Cannabis laws has been totally swept aside by the medical debate and barely one percent of users are even helped by the changes, Meanwhile ice is on a rampage. They just don’t get it, and why would they? It’s like having teetotallers in charge of alcohol regulations”. 

Michael Balderstone further told the Nimbin Good Times, why we need a Cannabis enquiry; “The Sex, now Reason, Party … came to visit and pick our brains about the Victorian government’s ‘Inquiry into the Use of Cannabis in Victoria’. Fiona (Patten) is the chair of the Legal and Social Issues Committee. The actual  wording of the Terms of Reference reads … 

On 30th May 2019, the Legislative Council agreed to the following motion: That this house, requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into, consider and report, by no later than 2 March 2020, into the best means to:
• prevent young people and children from accessing and using Cannabis in Victoria;
• protect public health and public safety in relation to the use of Cannabis in Victoria;
• implement health education campaigns and programs to ensure children and young people are aware of the dangers of drug use, in particular, Cannabis use;
• prevent criminal activity relating to the illegal Cannabis trade in Victoria;
• assess the health, mental health, and social impacts of Cannabis use on people who use Cannabis, their families and carers;
• and further requires the Committee to assess models from international  jurisdictions that have been successful in achieving these outcomes and consider how they may be adapted for Victoria”.

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“We mostly talked about models for the future, something we’ve been dreaming about in Nimbin for decades. These are my suggestions … First up let’s acknowledge prohibiting Cannabis causes more trouble than it prevents. Pretty much everyone agrees on that, it’s just what do we do next. Or, how do we get out of the mess? So first step, stop hunting pot users and if you must, treat it as a health issue”.

“Police have better things to do and it will start reversing Aussie ‘drug’ trends which are very much about not getting busted so don’t use weed, it stinks and its bulky and you have to smoke it … the easiest bust by far. Pills and powders are a cinch to hide in comparison. Then, critically, I would legalise home growing. We can argue forever about how many plants, but it’s significant California and Colorado both allow six plants. More would be great so try for ten … ”.

“Then comes the most difficult bit of regulations, supply. I’m all for the Hemployment model. There’s 100,000 jobs out there waiting to happen and there’s also plenty of Centrelink recipients that can do a complete turnaround and become taxpayers. Fuck giving the few grow and supply licences to the same old, rich, few. In Canada … seven of the 10 licensed producers are partners with global pharma giants”.cropped-medical-weed.jpg

“I’d put a ceiling on … supply licences so Big Pharma and the like are out of the picture and … let’s licence quantity. So every pound you sell is taxed as well as checked for mould and contaminants. A licence to sell a maximum of 100 lbs say at current prices, will give Aussie expertise which has been accumulating for fifty years now a chance to partake. A Dispensary licence is another matter but let’s get it out of the chemist and into the hands of people who know the subject”.

Watching North America try countless regulatory models over more than 20 years now, we have a unique opportunity to learn from their mistakes. California has had legal medical pot since 1996 and it’s just no big deal on the entire west coast of America now. Two years ago I watched suited businessmen queue with long haired hippies to buy joints or deals at any amount of dispensaries. It was so simple and so obviously no big deal for anyone”.

“Driving also can be no big deal. Most people are safer drivers with their usual ‘drugs’ inside them. Millions taking pharmaceuticals every morning first thing; pilots use speed to make sure they stay awake. Regular Cannabis users as well as heroin or methadone users are the same as pharma users. They’re all going to be safer with their usual medications on board. Road safety has to be about impairment, and police can easily and quickly tell if someone is impaired”.

r1312451_18074843“While they’re doing the breathalyser test they can get an idea of someone’s state of mind and if they want to look further then asking a driver a few questions or to hop out of the car and walk in a straight line will take less time than  waiting for the saliva stick to show up or not. ‘Drug’ test people then if you think they’re impaired and save fifty bucks on every little blue licky stick also. We can’t have machines doing everything for us, or we’ll turn into idiots”.

Background – Use of roadside saliva tests in Canada for impairment in question

 

Decriminalisation versus Legalisation, of Cannabis

 

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Decriminalisation refers to a reduction of legal penalties imposed for personal Cannabis use, either by changing them to civil penalties such as fines, or by diverting Cannabis users away from a criminal conviction and into education or treatment options (known as ‘diversion’). Cannabis possession for personal use and use itself would still be legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions would be deemed to be exclusively administrative violations, removed completely from the criminal realm. Decriminalisation largely applies to use and possession offences, not to sale or supply. The idea is to provide users with a more humane and sensible response to their use. Decriminalisation has the potential to reduce the burden on police and the criminal justice system. Essentially, under decriminalisation, law enforcement is instructed to ‘look the other way’ when it comes to possession of small amounts of Cannabis for personal use only. Under decriminalisation, both production and sale of Cannabis remains unregulated by the State. Decriminalisation does not address the black market nor criminal networks and relies on the ‘discretion’ of law enforcement. 

Image result for cannabis decriminalisationAs an example in Jamaica, according to The Economist:

“Decriminalisation is only half the answer. As long as supplying ‘drugs’ remains illegal, the business will remain a criminal monopoly. Jamaica’s gangsters will continue to enjoy total control over the ganja market. They will go on corrupting police, murdering their rivals and pushing their products to children. People who buy cocaine in Portugal face no criminal consequences, but their euros still end up paying the wages of the thugs who saw off heads in Latin America. For the producer countries, going easy on ‘drug’-users while insisting that the product remain illegal is the worst of all worlds”.

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Legalisation, on the other hand, is the lifting or abolishing of laws banning possession  and personal use of Cannabis. Legalisation would eliminate, or significantly reduce, the illegal black market and criminal networks as criminals do not profit in a legal market.  Legalisation allows government to regulate and tax Cannabis use and sales, accruing taxation revenue as they currently do from gambling, alcohol and tobacco. Moving the issue away from police and the criminal justice system and concentrating responses within health would save big taxpayer dollars and remove the negative consequences (including stigma) associated with criminal convictions for Cannabis use. Finally, use figures post legalisation in most jurisdictions show either no change or a drop in use numbers, along with a reduction in crime and overdose deaths from all other drugs.

Currently legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, are widely consumed and associated with an extensive economic burden to society – including hospital admissions, alcoholism treatment programs and public nuisance.

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We should all be concerned about laws on substances deemed drugs (as Cannabis, for example, is a herb) because they affect all of us: people who use; who have family members using; health professionals seeing people for related problems; ambulance and police officers; and all who pay high insurance premiums because drug-related crime is extensive. Drug-related offences also take up the lion’s share of the work of police, courts and prisons. The moral argument against legalisation suggests the use of illegal drugs is somehow amoral, anti-social and otherwise unacceptable in today’s society. The concern is legalisation would ‘send the wrong message’. The moral argument also applies to decriminalisation, as lesser penalties may suggest society approves of drug use. Many countries, including Australia, have decriminalised Cannabis use to some degree: measures include providing diversion programs (all Australian states and territories) and moving from criminal penalties to civil penalties (such as fines in South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory). 

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Research on Portugal suggests previously illegal drug use rates didn’t rise under decriminalisation, with measurable savings to the criminal justice system. The Portuguese government had been waging the ‘war on drugs since the 1980’s, but it wasn’t working (and hasn’t worked anywhere). Around 1% of the population was addicted to heroin in 1999 with the highest number of drug-related AIDS deaths in the European Union. In 2001 they took the unprecedented step of decriminalising all illicit substances deemed as ‘drugs’, from Cannabis to crystal methamphetamine to heroin. The Portuguese drug policy has been lauded by ultra-conservative and quasi-judicial, International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which deemed it exemplary in December 2015. A decreasing trend in the total number of notifications of human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) cases has continued to be registered since the early 2000’s. In 2016, a total of 1,030 new HIV-positive individuals and 261 new AIDS cases were reported for all risk groups; 14.3% of drug users who had ever injected and tested at outpatient treatment services were HIV positive, indicating an overall downward trend since 2013; and, Portugal’s drug-induced death rate sat at three per million residents, five times lower than the European average.

CannabisUsePortugal2017

A person caught using or possessing a small quantity of drugs in Portugal for personal use (by law, should not exceed quantity required or average individual consumption over a period of 10 days), where there is no suspicion of involvement in trafficking, will be evaluated by a local Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction (CDT), composed of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. Punitive sanctions can be applied, but the objective is to explore the need for treatment and to promote healthy recovery. Trafficking may incur a sentence of 1-5 or 4-12 years’ imprisonment, depending on specific criteria, such as the nature of the substance supplied. The penalty is reduced for users who sell to finance their own consumption. Decriminalisation seems to have taken some pressure off the Portuguese criminal justice system. In 2000, approximately 14,000 people were arrested for drug-related crimes. This number dropped to an average of 5,000-5,500 people per year after decriminalisation. However, the number of people the police have cited for administrative drug use offences has also remained constant at about 6,000 per year. 

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Uruguay legalised Cannabis use in December 2013 under President Jose Mujica, known for donating 90% of his wages to the needy. The goal was to stamp out the black market, controlled mainly by Paraguayan smugglers, without encouraging consumption. Other considerations were to assist health problems, battle ‘drug’ related crime by controlling growing, importing and distribution of Cannabis and lowering the profit organised crime rings would gain by trafficking etc. Three separate surveys were conducted early 2014, late 2015 and mid‐2017 with national representative samples of adults. 60.7% of respondents in 2014 were against legalisation; in 2017, 54.1% remained opposed. In 2015, half those interviewed (49.9%) supported access through self‐cultivation, while 38.6% favoured Cannabis clubs and 33.1% agreed with retail sales in pharmacies. Support for medical Cannabis was high in 2015, with 74.5% favouring it. The surveys evidenced a change in public opinion toward legalisation. 

Registered Uruguayan citizens (not visitors) are able to get Cannabis in one of three ways: grow up to six plants at home; join a club (45 members can cultivate up to 99 plants); or buy in pharmacies. Consumers are restricted to 40 grams (1.4 ounces) a month. About 10% of adult Uruguayans smoke at least once a year and more than 6,600 people initially registered to grow at home, with 51 clubs opened. Cannabis Clubs can grow a wide variety of plants, more than pharmacies are allowed to sell, with no limits on THC. “It’s the equivalent of comparing a bottle of wine with a box of wine” says Marco Algorta, grower at the 420 Cannabis Club in Montevideo. His worry is 99 plants are not enough to supply members with their full entitlement and he wants permission to grow more. 

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Even then, clubs and home growers will only cater to a niche market and pharmacies’ business will build, slowly (it’s only been five years since legalisation, this coming December). Thirty pharmacies initially signed up to cover much of the country, but their corporate suppliers are allowed to grow only four tonnes a year, 15% of what Uruguayans smoke. In June 2017, Uruguay’s envoy to Ottawa, Canada, Ambassador Martin Vidal, said his country’s goal had not been to change the minds of other countries about Cannabis, but to get them to accept that there are other ways to approach ‘drug’ control. “Some other countries have joined us in this discussion and others in the future, maybe Canada will be one of them, will find it’s not that the path is already clear, but we have facilitated a lot because we worked very hard in the last years to introduce this perspective” said Vidal, whose country is home to about 3.4 million people, about one-tenth Canada’s population.

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There hasn’t been a rise in Cannabis use rates in Australia, despite states and territories introducing civil penalties for users. Research has noted a negative side effect to the way in which decriminalisation operates in Australia; ‘net widening’, whereby more people are swept into the criminal justice system than would have been otherwise under full prohibition because discretion by police is less likely and/or they do not meet their obligations. Despite the largely supportive evidence base, politicians appear reluctant to proceed along the decriminalisation path, let alone legalisation, due somewhat to vested interests (mostly pharmaceutical interests). But public opinion is largely in support of decriminalisation and even legalisation where it concerns Cannabis. In a national survey in 2015, more than nine out of 10 Australians (91%) believed the use of Cannabis for medicinal purposes should be made legal, according to a special survey conducted 20-22 October. Only 7% were against legalisation and 2% couldn’t say.

“Prohibition has failed. As a drug and alcohol doctor, I’ve seen that the ‘tough on drugs’ approach causes enormous harm. It drives people away from getting help when they need it and exposes them to a dangerous black market”, Richard Di Natale

Image result for australian greens cannabis legalise it

In April 2018, Richard Di Natale, Leader of The Australian Greens said: “The Greens see ‘drug’ use as a health issue, not a criminal issue. Our plan to create a legal market for Cannabis production and sale will reduce the risks, bust the business model of criminal dealers and syndicates and protect young people from unfair criminal prosecutions”. He said in a poll in 2017, 55% of Australians believed Cannabis should be taxed and regulated like alcohol and tobacco. The plan would be expected to raise “hundreds of millions” of dollars for the budget. In May 2018, Senator David Leyonhjelm, Liberal Democrat from New South Wales, put forward a private member’s bill, ‘Criminal Code and Other Legislation Amendment (Removing Commonwealth Restrictions on Cannabis) Bill 2018’, which would amend five Acts and the Criminal Code Regulations 2002 to remove barriers in Commonwealth legislation to the legalisation and regulation of Cannabis for recreational, medicinal, industrial and other purposes.

MardiGrass2015

“Adults should be free to make their own choices, as long as they do not harm others”, he told Parliament House in Canberra. The NSW minor-party Senator has been a long-time supporter of recreational Cannabis as a libertarian who champions free speech, lower taxes and unwinding gun control. Senator Leyonhjelm previously supported the Greens’ plan to make the herb legal in the face of bans in every state and territory. In March, a Victorian parliamentary Inquiry Into Drug Law Reform called for recreational use to be legalised, after MP’s visited Colorado and California, where it is legal to use Cannabis, recreationally. They argued a sales tax could be levied on Cannabis if it was legalised and explored how Cannabis could be regulated with child-proof packaging, only available for sale to adults. 

reefermadnessOpponents of legalisation are concerned it will increase use, increase crime, increase risk of car accidents and reduce public health, including mental health. None of which has happened in any jurisdiction under legalisation (in fact mostly the opposite has been shown to be true). The current incarnation of the Australian Federal Health Minister, the misogynistic Greg Hunt, actually said in April 2018, “marijuana is a gateway drug”. Hunt graduated in Law from Melbourne University and won a full scholarship for his Masters in International Relations via Yale University. Great qualifications for a health portfolio; a lawyer who spruiks ‘reefer madness’ rubbish, as the ‘gateway drug’ hypothesis was well and truly discounted decades ago. The majority of people who use Cannabis do not go on to use other drugs. In addition, alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals usually precede Cannabis use, which if the theory were correct would make those drugs the ‘gateway’. There is also no evidence legalisation increases use

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Australia’s official drug strategy is purportedly based on a platform of harm minimisation, including supply reduction, demand reduction (prevention and treatment) and harm reduction. Arguably, policies should therefore have a net reduction in harm.  But some of the major harms from using illicit drugs are precisely because they are illegal. A significant harm is having a criminal record for possessing drugs for personal use. This can negatively impact a person’s future, including careers and travel. A large proportion of the work of the justice system (police, courts and prisons) is spent on drug-related offences. Yet, as Mick Palmer, former AFP Commissioner, noted “drug law enforcement has had little impact on the Australian drug market”. Decriminalisation may reduce the burden on the justice system, but not as much as full legalisation because police and court resources would still be used for cautioning, issuing fines, or diversion to education or treatment. 

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Legalising for recreational use would boost the budget by up to $1.8 billion a year, the Parliamentary Budget Office revealed. The independent costing of the policy submitted by the Greens shows a tobacco-style 25% per cent excise on each sale with a 10% Goods and Services Tax and a reduction in law enforcement would net $3.5 billion by 2020-21. Tourists travelling to Australia would add up to “10% of total sales”, earning $130 million in revenue by 2020. The boost would be used to fund drug education and treatment programs. The PBO said the policy would allow the Australian Federal Police to “re-allocate a proportion of the resources currently directed at Cannabis to strengthen the law enforcement of other illicit substances”, such as ice, methamphetamines and heroin.  There would also be minimal costs for the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Home Affairs to administer the taxes, the PBO found, as that could be done through established systems and processes. 

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Many see Cannabis prohibition as an infringement on civil rights, citing the limited to non-existent harms associated with Cannabis use. This includes the exceptionally low rate of so-called ‘dependence’ (it can certainly be habit-forming) and impossibility of overdosing on Cannabis, as well as incredibly low to non-existent risk of harms to people using, or others. Many activities that are legal are potentially harmful: driving a car, drinking alcohol, bungee jumping. Rather than making them illegal, there are guidelines, laws and education to make them safer that creates a balance between civil liberties and safety. Legalisation of Cannabis is relatively recent in most jurisdictions so longer-term benefits of legalisation are not yet known. But one study found little effect of legalisation on ‘drug’ use or other outcomes and other studies have shown no increase in use, even among teens

Related imageIn Australia there is a lack of clarity about the issues with poor understanding of the different models of decriminalisation and some basic confusion existing between what decriminalisation and legalisation actually constitute. Many people equate decriminalisation with legalisation, but as detailed, they are very different in policy, intent, action and outcome. Decriminalisation is also sometimes incorrectly confused with harm reduction services, such as safe injecting centres. In order for the debate to progress, we need clarity of terms and dispassionate presentation of what evidence we have, not more ‘reefer madness’ from unqualified and ignorant, in their lack of education regarding actual Cannabis, elected officials, politicians, senior so-called ‘medical professionals’ and self-serving academics. Three words leap to mind, ‘Cranial Rectal Inversion’.
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Adapted from Decriminalisation or legalisation: injecting evidence in the drug law reform debate with Portugal’s Experience of Drug DecriminalisationThe status of support for cannabis regulation in Uruguay 4 years after reform: Evidence from public opinion surveysUruguayan pharmacies will start selling cannabisGreens want cannabis to be made legalDrug War Facts – Region – PortugalCriminal Offences in Portugal 2012, by Type of ‘Drug’Drug harms in Portugal 2018, Uruguay sets path for Canada on marijuana legalization within international treatiesLegal highs: arguments for and against legalising cannabis in Australia$3.5 billion budget boost from legalising marijuana, costing shows and Australia: Senator introduces bill to allow the use of recreational cannabis 

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Is the Government Removing ‘Medical Cannabis’ Competition?

This man was arrested for giving patients Cannabis medicine for free. Despite purported legalisation, it remains extremely difficult to access ‘medical Cannabis’ in Australia. 

Prominent Cannabis Grower Tony Bower Is Arrested For Gifting Cannabis Oil To Patients
Tony Bower – If You Can, Please Support His Legal Fund

Mullaways-Medical-Cannabis

On 28th March 2018, police arrested prolific Australian Cannabis grower and founder of Mullaways Medical Cannabis (company registered 21 October, 2008), Tony Bower. His company develops Cannabis-based medicines to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy (particularly intractable paediatric forms), cancer/s and the likes of multiple sclerosis. As a result of his arrest, over 150 individuals who rely on his Cannabis-based treatments will need to look elsewhere, at least in the short term. Tony’s wife, Julie, said the couple had only a relatively small amount of Cannabis oil left in stock at the time of Tony’s arrest. 

“A 62-year-old Crescent Head man remains in custody following his latest appearance in court on three drug-related charges. Police executed a raid on a property near Kempsey. Anthony Bower was charged by police from the Mid North Coast Police District after they executed a search warrant with assistance of the Dog Unit. Police facts allege they located a large amount of cash, Cannabis leaf and 280 plants. Bower was arrested and charged with cultivating prohibited plant, deal in proceeds of crime, possess prohibited drug and supply prohibited drug. He was refused bail and remains in custody. His next court appearance is on 20 June”.

Tony waits in the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre for a June bail hearing after bail was refused in Local Court as he was deemed a high risk of ‘re-offending’. Anyone who knows, or has heard of, Tony, ‘Mullaway’, knows he is anything but criminal. To even suggest such seems, in effect, criminal, as laws based on lies are ‘pretend laws’ after all! However, the authorities have been trying to stop him and his important, life-saving work for years. Tony’s first time in court for growing and supplying Cannabis was in 1998, charged for cultivation. In 2013, he was charged with possession. Sentenced to one year’s incarceration, he appealed and was released after only six weeks. The following year, caught with more Cannabis plants, he was charged once again.

“A pretend law, made in excess of power, is not and never has been a law at all. Anyone in the country is entitled to disregard it”, Chief Justice Sir John Latham, 1942, South Australia v Commonwealth.

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Tony has long experimented with plant breeding to cultivate safe cannabinoid medicines. From Mullaways’ website;

“The Research by Mullaways Medical Cannabis has made it possible for the first time to; Design, Cultivate, Trial and Evaluate Cannabinoid Treatments using SAFE Doses of Cannabinoids / THCA / THC. While the rest of the Medical Cannabis Research world tries to genetically engineer Cannabis without any THC or tries to produce a rich Blend of Cannabinoids / THC from low THC Cannabis Mullaway’s Research has already produced the Jewel in the Crown of Medical Cannabis Research”.

However, Tony’s plans have been put on hold as he once again sits behind bars. In February 2016, Australia officially legalised ‘medical Cannabis’. Since then, government has signalled its intention to expand its ‘medical Cannabis’ operations, stating it would approve exports, becoming the fourth country in the world to do so. The country’s health minister said his government aims “to give farmers and producers the best shot at being the world’s number one exporter of medicinal Cannabis”.

Mullaways

Without legal permits, Tony was an easy target for law enforcement. But many in the community see Mullaways’ independent operation as a necessary alternative to the government-run, overly bureaucratic program. Many patients report accessing ‘medical Cannabis’ in Australia remains difficult. According to some estimates, only roughly one in ten users has been granted permission to access Cannabis legally, regardless of the government streamlining the current convoluted process.


Support Tony Bower with Legal Fees

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Adapted from Prominent Cannabis Grower Tony Bower is Arrested For Gifting Cannabis Oil to Patients with Man remains in custody on cannabis charges, Patient Access to Medicinal Cannabis Products in Australia

Australia’s First Legal ‘Medical Cannabis’ Patient

Prescribing medical cannabis

19 year old Lindsay Carter was diagnosed with a brain tumour (glioma) in July 2013 after suffering for over two years from an undiagnosed debilitating illness. He suffers intractable epilepsy (seizures cannot be controlled effectively by pharmaceuticals), he could suffer as many as 20 seizures (tonic clonic [formerly grand mal] and focal) in a day, alongside pain, nausea and a distinct lack of appetite. Regardless of the fact that he was the first patient to be legally prescribed schedule 9 botanical cannabis in Australia, supply is still a huge issue for Lindsay’s family and they’ve been forced to seek treatment options overseas for the fifth time. In an interview with Greendorphin, Lindsay’s medical condition, treatment options, medicine he’s taking and their plans to get him back to Canada and the United States where he’ll be able to receive proper treatment are discussed. Lindsay also has a GoFundMe page where donations can be made to assist with funds for his treatment.


Help if you can by sharing the fundraiser or donating and please …

Help Lindsay Beat This Brain Tumour!


Lindsay Carter
Greendorphin began the interview by asking Lindsay how his condition started and how he transitioned from the initial seizures and sickness to where he is now.

Lindsay: I was getting sick, like, a lot. I used to get headaches all the time, like almost every day. I was always nauseous, throwing up and just constantly sick. That was going on for like two years prior to being diagnosed and that took me out of school a lot for my first year of high school before we finally went to America.

Lanai: I remember the first time he had a tonic-clonic seizure. I wasn’t home but my husband was and Lindsay had come into the lounge room to get his help with a CV for a part-time job he wanted.  He just collapsed and hit the tiles face first and started seizing.

G: When it comes to the different types of seizures, can you give a bit of background info?

Lindsay and Lanai Carter Lanai: So, a tonic-clonic seizure is basically where your body goes into total paralysis and you lose all control of your movements. You get the full body jerking and there’s possible unconsciousness. I remember the seizures really scaring him the first few times.

G: So prior to you two leaving for treatment in America, had there actually been any diagnosis made?

Lanai: He’d had a neurosurgeon and neurologist diagnose him with a brain tumour and epilepsy, but the Neurosurgeon was not willing to operate on him. He thought that any procedure would be too detrimental cognitively and possibly result in a worse outcome. A specialist he was seeing at the time, though, recommended us to a colleague of his in Texas, which is what drove us to head to America. Initially, Lindsay was receiving some immune boosting supplements and nutritional guidance, but after the tumour failed to reduce in size, the specialists in Texas recommended we should travel to Washington State for Lindsay to trial some cannabis treatments.

G: What kind of treatments did they start him on?

Lanai: It was a THC extract. Lindsay didn’t get any good seizure management from CBD-rich tinctures or oils. The second day we’d gotten there they started him on a decarboxylated full-extract cannabis oil with a super high THC content. That one actually worked the best out of all the extracts he’d tried. He was on tiny doses at first as it’d just make him really sleepy, but he gradually titrated up very slowly over about three months. After about 7 weeks the tumour had shrunk by about 7 mm.

G: That’s amazing. In such a short amount of time too! So how are the product and treatments paid for? Is most of it supplied compassionately or are you having to cover all of the treatment costs?

Lanai: Well, there’s definitely been some support in the form of fundraising through our Facebook and GoFundMe. He’s had amazing compassionate support here in Australia too, I don’t think he’d be here today if he hadn’t received that support. Most of the money for treatment just comes from us though. We had to draw money from our superannuation to take him over to America and then while Lindsay and I were over there my husband lost his job when half of his workforce was made redundant. So then we had the added worry of not knowing what we were going to come home to. Luckily enough the day before we were due to travel back to Australia we received a call from him saying that he’d gotten a new job.

LindsayLanaiMillsPhotograp
G: What’s it been like since coming back to Australia? Has the access to medical-grade cannabis been a continual issue or has it been a lot easier to source than before?

Lanai: Well it took nineteen months from when we started to seek approval until he was able to receive his first shipment for three months’ worth of dried cannabis. The initial work began while Lindsay and I were still overseas. When I returned from the USA I contacted the Health department and the Justice department in Queensland. We asked Justice for an exemption for Lindsay and we had also been lobbying and petitioning with his previous advocate and other patients to change the health drugs and poison regulation laws in Queensland. Eventually, after months of petitioning and following up departments, there were three separate shipments that we were able to make from Canada under Queensland Health and TGA approval.  Unfortunately, he’s just run out of the last product he had so we’re going back to Canada and the States for more treatment. He needs far better access to a consistent supply of cannabis products in the correct potency and ratios to manage his condition effectively.

Lindsay Carter: Australia's First Medical Cannabis Patient

G: So you have been basically left out to dry at the moment?

Lanai: It’s not so much that, it’s just that it all takes too long! We had one product that worked that was coming through for him and then we had the issue of that company no longer shipping to Australia because of therapeutic goods regulations. When we tried to find a replacement product, all the companies we came across that were bulk-warehousing here in Australia were selling it at about three times the price.


“The TGA-approved products available to patients are extremely expensive. It may cost $120 a day to obtain cannabis products to treat a child with paediatric epilepsy, with no subsidy available from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Putting it all together, it becomes clear why only 250 or so Australians have access to officially sanctioned medicinal cannabis products. In striking comparison, Canada has more than 200,000 officially approved patients, and Israel more than 30,000”.

Professor Iain McGregor, Academic Director, Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, University of Sydney, 10 October 2017 (Sydney Morning Herald)


G: Is there a way any of these expenses can be claimed on Medicare? What possible funds or rebates do you have access to as a cannabis patient?

LindsayDecember2017Lanai: None at all, and even if we’d gone to the hospital and asked about access to a trial, they’re only really prescribing CBD isolate, which may work for some epilepsy patients, but hasn’t been shown to work for Lindsay. We’re just stuck between a rock and a hard place because the category B application in Queensland takes up to three months to be processed  and even after that we have to wait for the TGA to approve the product as well. And that’s not even taking into account the many months it takes for the overseas distributor to get an export permit and none of the companies licensed to grow in Australia have anything that’s suitable for Lindsay’s treatment currently.

G: So really it’s a six-month process to get Lindsay any proper medicine?

Lanai: At the bare minimum. And then we don’t even know if it’s going to be the correct dose or ratio to work efficiently for Lindsay.  We cannot get the correct potency or ratio oils imported for him and they are not accessible here through the regulated system. And his dose is up to a gram of dried cannabis a day plus a high dose of full extract oils, so it’s really difficult for him to go any time without access to the products. You basically have to be on your death bed to have any luck getting on any of the palliative care trials, so consistent legal access isn’t really possible for Lindsay the way the system is now, nor is it affordable.

Lindsay Carter: Australia's First Medical Cannabis Patient - using a Mighty vaporizer

G: What’s it like in the times you aren’t able to access any cannabis products?

Lanai: He just looked at me with absolute panic the other day. He’d used the last of his dried cannabis from Canada and had just a little bit of oil left. It just makes me feel helpless to know that I can’t do anything about it as the supply just isn’t there. When he’s off the cannabis he doesn’t eat much, he starts to lose weight. Aside from the oils actually shrinking his tumour, it’s all of these other factors that necessitate the need for daily use. It’s just amazing how much of a difference it makes when he’s on it.

G: That’s insane. So many parents are having to choose between breaking the law or sitting back in silence watching their kids die. As Lindsay was Australia’s first patient, you’d think they would’ve sorted the supply before starting to prescribe it.

Lanai: It’s definitely hard without a consistent supply.

Crafty vaporizer chamber filled with ground cannabis G: (To Lindsay) What do you think about the plant itself ? Did you ever think it would do anything like this?

Lindsay: No, it’s just amazing. It’s way more advanced than I ever could’ve thought. It’s ridiculous how many things it’s able to help with.

G: What is it actually like when you start to feel the onset of a seizure?

Lindsay: It’s definitely scary. Sometimes I wake up and it’s just there. So I don’t really always get the effects or the pre-warnings. But sometimes I get a feeling in my mind that I can’t annunciate my words, my speech slurs and it just becomes a lot more difficult to get words out. There’s just this aura around me that something is about to happen. When there’s a full body seizure with the spasms there’s like a 3-5 second moment of feeling this way until it starts to kick in. With the focal seizures though, so when I just stop talking without the spasticity, I can use my vaporiser to combat it and then I’m fine after about five minutes. 

Lindsay Carter: Australia's First Medical Cannabis PatientG: How does the cannabis help to stem the seizure?

Lindsay: I can feel the anxiety start to wash away, and after about 5 minutes the slurring wears away and I’m able to talk normally. I can always tell when it’s working because things start to come into focus again, like, words or pictures or whatever around the room that I couldn’t read a minute ago become clear enough to see.

G: What’s your quality of life like in the times that you’ve got access compared to when you don’t?

Lindsay: From the start when I first started having the seizures it was just annoying. Doctors kept diagnosing me with things that I didn’t think I had. Like the symptoms just weren’t the same. And then when we found out about the tumour and that it was causing the epilepsy, everything went downhill a bit. I lost heaps of weight. When I started on the cannabis though I could just eat normally. I felt hungry and was able to gain back about 10 kg, but in the times where I can’t access the cannabis that all stops.

Lindsay Carter: Australia's First Medical Cannabis Patient and his dogG: What are the doctors saying about the tumour at this point? Has there been any inkling that it may be able to be shrunk?

Lanai: There’s been a couple of doctors that are saying they’re curious to see if it will go. You know, like a hope, but never wanting to get our hopes up. We think very realistically about it now. At some point throughout one of our trips back to the States, I had to face the reality that this tumour may never go. Or that even if it reduces in size, that it might leave some sort of residual that means he still has to put up with the epilepsy. I feel like when you’re dealing with a chronic illness that acceptance is really important.

G: Of course.

Lanai: I always have this saying; “When there are options there’s hope and when there are no options you can lose hope”. So I’m willing to try this as an option. I do feel we have hope, there are so many things that can give him possibilities for a better outcome. Every family that’s dealing with a situation like this needs to have options and hope. It just makes me so sad that there are so many patients out there that it’s just too late for. We’ve seen it. In the times since he’s been diagnosed, we’ve seen so many people die.

medical cannabisG: So looking at it from a quality of life angle, more than a treatment angle, how has Lindsay changed since starting on the cannabis products?

Lanai: Look, before we went over to the States the first time, we’d struggle to even get him out of the house. I remember one day we had a family birthday party and we wanted so much for him to be there, but he just didn’t have the energy to leave the house and we couldn’t understand it.

G: Had the tumour been discovered at that point?

Lanai: This was before he was diagnosed. Now he comes up to me some days and asks me if I want to go for a drive in the country or get outside. As a child, he always loved getting outside and we’d go for a picnic or bushwalking and long drives in the country and he loved all of that stuff. Then when we got sick it was just miserable for him. Even small car trips were just unbearable so he spent most of his time in his room or in the hospital. Then when we got back from America it was like he was that little kid again. All the problems his tumour had been causing became a lot more manageable after it’d shrunk and the swelling had reduced and his symptoms easier to manage. And that’s definitely thanks to the cannabis treatments. I’m actually struggling to keep up with him sometimes! But that’s his good days when he does have access to medical cannabis. There’s still the days where maybe he’s had a really bad seizure and he aspirates and has post-seizure vomiting where he can’t stop vomiting.

Lindsay: Even the hospitals couldn’t figure out how to stop the vomiting. The vaporiser though helps a lot, it’s crazy; like almost straight away the vomiting stops.

Lindsay Carter and his Mighty vaporizer
Lanai:
 Actually last time he was able to take his vaporiser into the hospital. He wasn’t able to keep the meds down, but after he was admitted he was actually able to vaporise his cannabis and stem the vomiting straight away. That’s why we’re heading back to America and Canada for treatment in a few weeks. We just can’t wait the six or more months that it’ll take to get him his medicine. Even in the past few weeks with this limited supply of medicine, he’s started to lose the weight again so the time has got to be now.

G: (To Lindsay) If you had to talk to someone that was against using medical cannabis what would you say to them?

Lindsay: It’s just a medicine to me. I know a lot of people don’t see it like that, it’s just a medicine. It’s weird to say but it’s kind of like magic. It’s something that can fix so many different problems. And it doesn’t even have to stay a medicine! It can be used for clothes and food, and you know, other stuff like that. It’s got so many different applications it’s crazy. It’s definitely got it’s recreational side to it like alcohol, but at the end of the day, it’s a medicine that can’t really do anything bad to you if you treat it that way. It’s always going to have some sort of medicinal benefit regardless of how you’re using it.

LindsayWorkExperienceAugust2016The utter hopelessness of the situation and complete lack of assistance from the government or health officials is just sickening. There are up to half a million people using some form of cannabis in an effort to heal themselves, while only a handful of them are actually legally authorised to do so.

Cannabis for Lindsay and many other people is the difference between a life of suffering and a life worth living. But the winds of change are very slowly sweeping across Australia and more and more studies and patient trials are being conducted.

LindsayGirlfriendJanuary2018

Extracted from Lindsay Carter: Australia’s First Medical Cannabis Patient

Author, Matt BuchananCannabis advocate, activist and enthusiast, been studying Cannabis and its counter-culture extensively since 2011.

Cannabis, Lies in Law, Lawyers and the Law-makers

“A pretend law, made in excess of power, is not and never has been a law at all. Anyone in the country is entitled to disregard it”, Chief Justice Sir John Latham, 1942, South Australia v Commonwealth.

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At the end of 2017, a compassionate Cannabis healer from a southern Australian state asked on social media, “So when are the lawyers going to stand up against the lies based on laws which are the Cannabis laws? Cannabis is NOT a poison, NOT a narcotic, NOT a drug of dependence!” Earlier that year, Australia21 released a report from a round-table discussion involving 17 experts and practitioners. Retired judges, prosecutors, senior police, prison and parole administrators, drug law researchers and advocates met at the University of Sydney to discuss drug law reform. The round-table explored the range of alternative options to prohibition, including initiatives introduced in other countries. They addressed the question of exploring different approaches in their report, ‘Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely?’ and agreed, “What we now have is badly broken, ineffective and even counter-productive to the harm minimisation aims of Australia’s national illicit drugs policy. We must be courageous enough to consider a new and different approach”. 

Already in 2018 there are a handful of court cases in which medical necessity will be used alongside not guilty pleas for a variety of Cannabis charges. Members of both the Australian Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party and the Medical Cannabis Users Association (MCUA) of Australia joined forces to survey their members, seeking detail on interactions with the vastly inequitable, illogical and inhumane ‘Cannabis laws’, charges and sentencing for all so-called ‘Cannabis crimes’, but especially for use of the plant for documented medical purposes and compassionate supply, entirely victimless crimes. One of the HEMP Party’s main policies is to end prohibition, release those imprisoned along with removal of all records of criminal Cannabis convictions. From the survey answers it is unambiguous that either the luck-of-the draw or political pressure is at play in sentencing in most states. Demarcation in sentencing along state lines is also reflected in the results, according to whichever political party is in charge in a given state at a given time.


1NTdrugdriving“Australia’s drug driving laws criminalise individuals who represent no risk to other drivers, making a mockery of the law as a tool for reasonably managing risk in a community”, Greg Barns Barrister and a spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance.


In most states and territories the court will have no choice but to disqualify or cancel a first time offender’s drivers licence for a period of three to nine months. In the United States with the advent of Cannabis use for medicinal purposes an acknowledgement came from one superior court that it is patently unjust to penalise a person who does not threaten other road users in any way. The inherent unfairness of drug driving laws can be illustrated by comparing them to drink driving laws. The link between alcohol, road deaths and injuries is well known, as Assistant Professor Andrea Roth wrote in the California Law Review. We base drink driving laws on demonstrably correct data. Not so with other substances such as Cannabis (deemed a ‘drug’, but actually a herb). Australia takes the prohibitionist stance and applies it to driving without bothering to undertake rigorous analysis. 


“Australia’s drug driving laws have no evidential basis but can have severe impacts on the rights of individuals and their families. A zero tolerance approach to drugs while driving avoid[s] the need for a reliable science-based correlation between drug concentration and level of impairment”, Franjo Grotenhermen and colleagues, Addiction

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As Professor Roth observes, it is a case of legislators being lazy and simply saying “a prohibitionist stance would have to do”. Dr Alex Wodak, Chair of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation noted, “One of the problems with ‘zero tolerance’ drug driving laws is that they punish some drivers who are not impaired as a way of deterring other drivers who might be impaired or might become impaired from driving. This is what we call ‘vicarious punishment’ and it offends basic notions of fairness”. Or, as Professor Roth put it, “punishment without purpose is immoral”. Australia’s drug driving laws have no evidential basis but can have severe impacts on the rights of individuals and their families, given loss of a driver’s licence can mean losing your job. Even more liberal laws, like those across the US are not legitimate because,  to quote Professor Roth, “there is no demonstrated linear or predictable relationship between THC blood limits and an increased crash risk”

In Arizona, US, the Supreme Court weighed into the issue with a landmark ruling that identified the flaw in zero tolerance drug driving laws. It noted a driver cannot be considered to be ‘under the influence’ based solely on concentrations of Cannabis or its metabolites that are insufficient to cause impairment. In other words, it is only legitimate as a matter of justice and sound public policy to prosecute individuals about whom it can be shown that the concentration of the ‘drug’ in their blood stream meant they presented a risk to other road users. Australian courts are on a daily basis, dealing with drug driving cases and criminalising individuals who represent no risk to other road users. This is making a mockery of the law as a tool for ensuring that risk in a community is managed reasonably. Drug driving laws must be reformed and this can only be done by pursuing rigorous analysis of the impact of drugs on driving. The only offence which ought to be on the statute books is one based, as is the case in respect of drink driving laws, where there is a strong research consensus on causation between the substance in a person’s blood stream and impairment. 

reefermadnessAustralia’s legislation regarding the use and cultivation of Cannabis is groundless, immoral and unethical, as Cannabis scheduling is based on false statements taken from the advice of some of the highest-paid (partially pharmaceutical funded), prohibitionists Australia has ever seen. For example, Australia’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales has spent years spewing ‘reefer madness’, prohibitionist driven lies and purport there is a large body of research and evidence on the “harms associated with Cannabis use”. However, their assertions are easily exposed as false with science-fact, not the fictions they consistently publish, noting that the purported Cannabis Use Disorder they are so fond of ‘studying’ was debunked in 2013, when the DSM-V was officially defunded due to the weakness of the manual, “its lack of validity”Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the US National Institute of Mental Health at the time, stated, “Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure”. That consensus was deemed to be missing, whether it ever really existed also remains in doubt, as one consultant for DSM-III conceded about the horse-trading that drove the supposedly ‘evidenced-based’ edition from 1980, “There was very little systematic research and much of the research that existed was really a hodgepodge—scattered, inconsistent, ambiguous”.

A code of ethics commonly expresses the expectation of service to the community with values such as honesty, integrity, impartiality, respect for persons, respect for the law, diligence, economy and efficiency, responsiveness and accountability, evident in Australian professional ethical codes and guidelines. This ideal is espoused by Australian lawyers and in the ‘Ethics for In-House Counsel’ handbook the first ethical foundation is that the defining characteristic of each and every profession is a commitment to place the interests of others before those of its members, individually and collectively and to act in a spirit of public service. Another is that practising law requires the exercise of moral courage. The community is entitled to receive legal information and be provided with legal advice and representation to resolve disputes and establish or affirm individual rights and obligations.

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Regrettably, as former Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Gerard Brennan observed: “Litigation is financially beyond the reach of practically everybody but the affluent, the corporate or the legally aided litigant; governments are anxious to restrict expenditure on legal aid and the administration of justice. It is not an overstatement to say the system of administering justice is in crisis. Ordinary people cannot afford to enforce their rights or litigate to protect their immunities … some solutions must be found and practical solutions are likely to be radical”. In the words of Kirby J (1995 Aust Torts Reports 81-367,62,795), “The great debate for lawyers in [this] century … is whether the ascendancy of economics and competition, unrestrained, will snuff out what is left of the nobility of the legal calling and the idealism of those who are attracted to its service. We must certainly all hope that the basic ideal of the legal profession, as one of the faithful service beyond pure economic self-interest will survive. But whether it survives or not is up to us, the lawyers of today”. 

Image result for HEMP AustraliaThere are tens-of-thousands of illicit Cannabis users across Australia who would like to know, as advisers to governments, when law societies and judicial commissions across the nation intend to look at the outlandish lies and inconsistencies in the Cannabis laws and speak to the Attorneys General about the impact the ideological, entirely failed and now admittedly lost War on Drugs is having on already sick and suffering citizens (patients, carers, parents and advocates) and why, when an ever-growing number of other jurisdictions worldwide allow use of Cannabis for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, Australians are still persecuted and prosecuted for what is, in some cases, their only choice between life and death? Australian drug laws have been established by decree, based on media-generated bigotry and beliefs, not carefully analysed evidence nor scientific facts. Severe punishment for possession and use of outlawed ‘drugs’, many safer than alcohol or tobacco, is cruel and unjust. Governments and regulatory bodies conceal truths and maintain misconceptions to justify hypocritical punishments meted out by the courts. 


“Organised crime in this state and the rest of the country is out of control and cannot be stopped without a radical change”, New South Wales Crime Commission.

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In the eyes of legislators it would seem any ‘drugs’, except alcohol and tobacco, that give a degree of pleasure must be prohibited and defined as ‘a dangerous drug of addiction’, whether or not the substance in question actually causes pharmacological harm! The Howard government (1996-2007) went from ‘harm minimisation’ to ‘zero tolerance’ with a tough on drugs policy. We wonder when Australian law-makers will cast aside their irrational fear of what might happen, given there is no evidence to justify their supposed anxiety. In fact, evidence from Portugal, Uruguay and US states of Colorado, Oregon and Washington, for example, show the complete opposite. Do our law-makers still think Cannabis used for medicinal purposes will warp minds; this is nothing more than prohibitionist, reefer-madness, fear-mongering led by those with a vested interest in keeping the pharmaceutical model of healthcare that has paid their salaries for decades whilst lying to the public about the toxic side-effects of their products and stigmatising Cannabis when it is in fact an entirely non-toxic herb, not a drug of addiction at all, and safer even than water (water can kill, Cannabis cannot).


As of 1 January, 2018, Cannabis will be recreationally legal in a number of states across the US including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington DC.  This will bring America in line with Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Greece, parts of India, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Myanmar, Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and Uruguay, all of which have made recreational Cannabis use legal or decriminalised.


Image result for legalised Cannabis actually reduced homicide and assault ratesIn the US, the effect of state Cannabis legalisation on Colorado, for example, has been all good since voters legalised in November 2012 for recreational use. During the first year of implementation, Denver experienced a 2.2% decrease in violent crimes and an 8.9% reduction in property crimes, according to  research conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance. Many other reports have corroborated that data, including the Colorado Department of Public Safety and the FBI Uniform Crime Report. The Colorado Department of Public Safety report showed a 6% decrease in the violent crime rate state-wide from 2009 to 2014. Other US jurisdictions that legalised Cannabis for recreational use have experienced similar declines in violent crime. In Washington State, violent crime rates decreased by 10%, from 2011-2014 and Portland, Oregon, also saw crime rates drop since legalising Cannabis for recreational use. 

Another comprehensive study published by Dr Robert Morris, Criminology professor at University of Texas, Dallas, demonstrated legalised Cannabis actually reduced homicide and assault rates. Dr Morris’ study tracked crime rates across all 50 states between 1990 and 2006, when 11 states legalised Cannabis for medical use. “We found no increase in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalisation”, Morris said. “In fact, we found some evidence of decreasing rates of some types of violent crime, namely homicide and assault”. Implementing and enforcing Australia’s drug laws is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars. Australian governments spent $1.7 billion, 2009/10, on illicit ‘drugs’; 64% law enforcement, 22% treatment, 10% prevention, only 2% harm reduction. The Australian Crime Commission’s 2011-12 Illicit Drug Data Report stated 61,011 (65%) of drug arrests were Cannabis-related. That’s police and judicial time that could be better spent dealing with actual and serious crimes such as murders, domestic violence, robberies, rapes and white-collar crimes (on the rise across many jurisdictions in Australia). 

Image result for harm minimisation australiaNew South Wales Greens Dr Mehreen Faruqi, party spokesperson on drugs and harm minimisation, stated in 2017 that while change is never easy when it comes to drug law reform, the two major political parties have persisted with “failed policies of prohibition” over the last twenty years. “It seems their minds are closed to the evidence, the opinion polling and the significant social, health and economic benefits a system of legalising and regulating Cannabis could bring”, Dr Faruqi said. Dr Faruqi envisages such a market could be modelled on Oregon or Washington, US’ models, “where there are systems of licensed sellers and restrictions on advertising and marketing”. An independent regulatory authority could oversee development of the market. “I would like to see a serious parliamentary inquiry into legalising Cannabis that can bring the best and most successful elements from around the world to Australia” she said. On the subject of home-grown, Dr Faruqi is adamant people should be allowed to grow prescribed amounts. “We have seen the power of ‘big tobacco’ and ‘big alcohol’ so we need to ensure we don’t create a monopolised ‘big Cannabis’ either”, Dr Faruqi concluded.


Classified federally as a Schedule I substance in the US, defined as a “most dangerous” drug, “with no currently accepted medical use”. Neither of those statements has ever been factual, said internationally respected US Neurosurgeon and Medical Correspondent for CNN, Dr Sanjay Gupta, whom also said, “We have been terribly and systematically misled [regarding the medical benefits of Cannabis] for over 70 years and I, for one, am sorry for the part I have played in that”.


sanjay-gupta

We understand sentencing is a state related matter but as we all live in the same country and the purported ‘crimes’ are the same, why, for example, is one state seemingly lenient and another incredibly harsh? Roadside Drug Testing (RDT) is a perfect example of legislation designed to suit a political agenda and not a road safety one. Testing for the presence of a substance in one’s system to purportedly make the roads safer is a complete waste of police time when they don’t test for substances that actually kill on the roads, like benzodiazepines (just behind alcohol and ahead of cocaine in drugs causative of fatal road accidents). A 2017 paper by Wollongong University Associate Professor of Law Julia Quilter and University of New South Wales Professor of Law Luke McNamara took a look at how Australian drug driving laws have developed over time and their inconsistency with “the evidence-based impairment paradigm”.

In Zero Tolerance’ Drug Driving Laws in Australia: A Gap Between Rationale and Form, the researchers aimed to call out “unprincipled law making and encourage governments to be attentive to the normative deficits … of how criminal law is employed as a public policy tool”. Random Breath Testing (RBT) transformed the common practice of drink driving into a “highly stigmatised criminal behaviour” and improved road safety. However, because of the flawed premise Australia’s current drug driving laws are based upon, they don’t have the potential to do the same. Drug driving laws across the nation make it an offence to drive a vehicle with the mere presence of certain illicit substances in a person’s system. In most jurisdictions, police only test for Cannabis, amphetamines and MDMA. Victoria was the first state to introduce this model in 2004, after amending the Road Safety Act 1986. Section 49(1)(bb) provides a person is guilty of an offence if driving “while the prescribed concentration of drugs or more … is present in his or her blood or oral fluid”. Section 3 defines “prescribed concentration of drugs” as “any concentration”.

Image result for testing for impairment improves road safety.

This model doesn’t align with the equation that testing for impairment improves road safety. Mobile drug testing doesn’t test if there are “active” drugs in a person’s system. It only tests for presence. As Lismore local court magistrate, David Heilpern accepted, drivers can test positive for ‘drugs’ they have taken days prior. A positive test result is no indication a driver is impaired and unfit to drive. Thus the whole rationale of road safety is lost when drivers using other licit (particularly pharmaceuticals) or illicit drugs that impair are allowed to use motor vehicles while impaired. Then there’s the over-criminalisation of those who do use ‘drugs’ being tested for. These individuals are punished as dangerous drivers, when there is no evidence they have actually been driving in an impaired state. These drivers are subjected to hefty fines and licence disqualification. In some jurisdictions there’s even a prison penalty option. Researchers recommend all Australian jurisdictions make three changes to existing drug driving laws:

  1. All drugs known to impair driving should be tested for, whether licit or illicit.
  2. Oral fluid testing should only be used as an initial test. Following test should be a blood sample, sent off for laboratory analysis; the basis to any criminal charges. Oral fluid tests are “a relatively poor mechanism for assessing” impairment. In the 2013 Wolff report the “gold standard” for drug detection is a blood sample; and,
  3. Minimum prescribed concentrations for all impairing drugs should be set (in 2012, Norway introduced evidence-based concentrations for 20 non-alcohol drugs, legal and illegal).

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey revealed the Australian community’s support for a new approach to drug use and addiction. Penington Institute’s acting CEO David Grant said the findings further highlight Australia’s existing approach to addiction, overdose and problematic ‘drug’ use simply isn’t working. “The failed War on Drugs continues to cost lives and money – it provides very poor return on investment for the Australian community and there is a growing awareness of this fact. Throughout the entire Australian community more and more people are dying from drug use – this is an avoidable tragedy. In addition to this, untold amounts of taxpayer dollars are squandered on an approach that continues to fail to the detriment of our entire community”. Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2017 (from the Penington Institute) shows more than twice as many Australians are now dying due to accidental overdose compared to those dying from car accidents.

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A significant increase in deaths related to pharmaceutical opioids, street heroin and highly potent fentanyl is also highlighted. “We need to treat drug use and addiction for what it is – a serious community health issue with widespread implications for our society. We can’t arrest our way out of this problem – we need better community education for people who are experimenting with drug use before they become addicted and greater availability to a range of health and support services. We need to shift our approach to evidence-based measures with proven results – this isn’t about going soft on drugs it’s about getting smart on drugs”. Mr Grant says a review of expenditure and the allocation of resources in relation to drugs is one option to work towards a more targeted and effective response to drug use in the Australian community.

Past President and current Treasurer of the MCUA, Gail Hester, summed up the situation across Australia noting that the MCUA, a not-for-profit incorporated association, with 16,000 Aussie members in their Facebook group, all want access to affordable Cannabis, including growing their own plants for medicine and food to treat and prevent illness. Although access was purportedly made legal last year, less than 200 people nationwide have been granted access via prescription as doctors are not prepared to risk their licence by prescribing it and apparently indemnity insurers are playing a role as well. This leaves thousands of otherwise law-abiding Australians with no choice but to seek out Cannabis on the black market or grow their own and it is becoming more common that patients and providers are raided, busted and dragged through the courts by police who confiscate medicine and destroy plants.

Patients and carers need protection in place to stop this happening. Courts are becoming seriously clogged with those whom use Cannabis for medicinal purposes and families are having children taken and put into “care” due to employing illicit Cannabis with amazing results for, particularly, paediatric epilepsy and autism. This too has to stop. Many hundreds of seniors who used Cannabis as a social choice have now found themselves turning to the plant to reduce symptoms of illness and ageing such as chronic pain, migraine, glaucoma, adult epilepsy and a myriad of other conditions including mental health issues including depression, anxiety and the likes of PTSD. This is because Cannabis works on the body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS) to create and ensure balance (homoeostasis) across all the other major bodily systems and keeps disease at bay.

We know Cannabis is safe for the greater majority of people as no one has ever died from overdose (not physiologically possible), unlike the current epidemic of opioid deaths. The gateway theory has been debunked over and over and states in the US where Cannabis is fully legal have seen a drop in road related deaths, mainly because people are using less alcohol. Police continue to raid and destroy crops and take the safer option off the street here in Australia and a multitude of citizens have been seriously let down. Lucy Haslam of United in Compassion, spoke of the deep shame she felt in politicians who had imposed a system designed primarily for pharmaceutical companies; bureaucratic, convoluted, time-consuming, over-regulated and expensive. The overwhelming majority of medical Cannabis users are still forced to the black market. 


Image result for united in compassion“I think that New South Wales voters should realise they have been duped at both the state level and the federal level. Politicians have been very quick to stand in front of the camera and to take the accolades for making medical Cannabis available when in fact they’ve done the opposite”, Lucy Haslam, United in Compassion. 


In practice, the laws allowing access to medicinal Cannabis are so strict that not more than thirty or forty patients are able to access legal Cannabis in New South Wales. Lucy Haslam estimates the black market contains tens of thousands of medical Cannabis users. While access to medical Cannabis is administered in this highly restricted, bureaucratic manner, many of the activists who campaigned for legalisation continue to be arrested by the police and their supplies and their plants confiscated. A good example of misleading information is the New South Wales Centre for Road Safety website which states THC (Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) can typically be detected in saliva by a Mobile Drug Testing (MDT) stick for up to 12 hours after use (studies suggest THC is detectable for up to 22-24 hours). Stiff penalties apply for those caught; court, loss of licence, fine, a criminal record, driver education.

Criminal Barrister Stephen Lawrence said he heard hundreds of cases where drivers tested positive to Cannabis despite saying they smoked “well outside the 12-hour period. When you, as a magistrate or a criminal lawyer see a constant run of cases where people are saying exactly the same thing and you judge it not to be said in a self-serving way – you form a view. A lot of practitioners have certainly now formed the view the 12-hour figure is misleading”. Lawrence said it has been a constant issue” since government announced a crackdown on drug driving in 2015, warning mobile drug testing would triple to almost 100,000 tests each year by 2017. He said the government needs to look at its advice urgently. In a scathing judgement, Lismore magistrate David Heilpern said he’d heard hundreds of similar cases in the space of just a few months in which drivers said they waited days, sometimes weeks, after smoking Cannabis before driving, but still tested positive.

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He said prosecution remained silent through hundreds of cases, even when defendants claimed they tested positive after passive smoking, eating hemp seeds, rubbing hemp balm or taking medicinal tincture. In the vast majority of cases the time-frame has been over 12 hours” Mr Heilpern said. On not one occasion has the prosecution cavilled with this contention. The prosecution have remained silent when people claim they consumed Cannabis weeks prior. Not once has any scientific evidence been produced … that supports the contention the final or any other test only works for 12 hours. It could be every single one of those defendants are lying to the police. However, on balance, I find that this is unlikely”. Stephen Lawrence agreed, As a criminal lawyer, you get a sense, over a long period of time, as to whether people are being self-serving and dishonest or whether they are being honest and frank. It is a defence to a criminal charge if a person has an honest and reasonable mistaken belief in a state of affairs which, if it exists, means they are not guilty” he said.


So for example, if you had an honest and reasonable belief based on things that you read on a government website about how long active THC stays in your system, you had structured your behaviour around that advice and then you tested positive for a roadside test – then you should be seeking legal advice about whether you might have a defence of honest and reasonable mistake of fact”, Criminal Barrister Stephen Lawrence.

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In 2017, the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties’ President Mr Michael Cope stated, “The personal use and possession of all drugs (psychoactive substances) and psychotropic plants should be decriminalised. A policy along those lines was implemented in Portugal in 2001. It has been a great success with none of the predicted dire consequences transpiring”. A study found that in Portugal since decriminalisation;

  • Levels of drugs use are less than the European average, 
  • Drug use has declined amongst 15-24 year olds, 
  • Deaths due to drug use have declined significantly

The same study reports the enforcement of criminal laws has, at best, a marginal impact in deterring people from drug use. “The centre of the Portuguese approach is harm minimisation by treating drug use as a health problem and not a criminal law problem”. Casey Isaacs, Criminal Defence Lawyer and partner at Caldicott Lawyers says, “It would take a total rethink of a lot of the criminal laws that exist. Once you make it legal, it affects drug driving laws, it will affect a lot of the provisions of the Sentencing Act”. Rachel Shaw, Criminal Defence Lawyer and a partner with Shaw and Henderson said, “At the moment, the legislation is all about what you can’t do, but my suggestion is that you create a law about what is permissible, what you can do”. The nightmare scenario would be pressing delete without doing anything else. Overnight no one from judges down to the cops would know what to do about all the boring, technical stuff.

Both Casey and Rachel suggested the best way to deal with this is to let medical Cannabis for medicinal purposes do the heavy lifting as it raises all the same issues as decriminalising Cannabis for recreational use and places like South Australia and Victoria have already reformed their Cannabis for medicinal use laws and these could be expanded to include recreational. Home cultivation would help combat the black market, according to a policy paper drafted by the British Columbia wing of Canada’s Liberal Party back in 2013. Growing Cannabis at home, the policy makers wrote, would give consumers a legal alternative to retail Cannabis, which means there wouldn’t be any need to keep dealers on the street in business and competing with home cultivation would force businesses to keep the cost of retail Cannabis low and the quality high in order to attract customers. 

503e589cab97b59cc53421127b6291af_400x400Colorado, after only a couple of years of legalisation had their lowest teen Cannabis use rate ever recorded, significant drops in violent crime figures, as well as lower driving fatality statistics. Additionally, opioid overdose deaths are lower in every state with legal access to Cannabis. Internationally respected scientific and medical figures, from the United Kingdom, Neuropharmacologist David Nutt, and from the US, Psychologist Dr Mitch Earleywine, Neurobiologist Dr Carl Hart and Psychiatrist Dr Lester Grinspoon among others, agree on the issue of facts and actual science relating to Cannabis and its medical properties.

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So why has literally nothing changed in Australia? There are many factors. Firstly, major lobbying from pharmaceutical companies (which donate to major politic parties). Sales figures for opiate painkillers in legal Cannabis states in US tell of massive declines in sales as people switch to a non-lethal, herbal alternative, which many are able to grow themselves at home. In the US, the top five lobby groups opposing legislative change are police unions, private prison corporations, ‘big pharma’ companies, prison guard unions and alcohol producers. There are certainly elements of all these lobby groups active in Australia too, alongside various religious groups. Australians are being force-fed privatisation, with no offer of decriminalisation nor legalisation, driven by unmitigated greed and a complete lack of understanding of even the mechanism-of-action of Cannabis.

medicianl-cannibasAustralia could learn from the US ‘experiment’ or take a leaf out of Uruguay’s book, where full legalisation of all previously illicit ‘drugs’ took place in 2013. Drug consumption is not a crime in Uruguay, state law permits the use of any recreational substance and does not criminalise possession for personal use. Cannabis may be obtained by growing it for personal use, buying it from pharmacies or the Ministry of Health, or by being a member of a Cannabis club. Uruguay gained its prominent position on drug-related issues through vigorous campaigns in political and diplomatic arenas for drug control policies that remain cognisant of human rights, emphasise civil society participation, remain impartial and egalitarian according to principles of mutual and shared responsibility and avoid stigmatisation.

Expanded from, Australia’s drug driving laws are grossly unfair and This Can’t Go OnOpen Letter from the Front-line of the War on Drugs,  Legal Experts Call For Changes to NSW Roadside Drug Testing, How Australia Can Legalise Recreational Weed Within Five YearsCannabis Re-legalisation Its About Freedom and Good Health, Australian Law Enforcement Have Lost the War on Drugs, with The example of Dr Pot (Nimbin Good Times) by Dr John Jiggens

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