NSW premier Mike Baird has defended his government's action on medical cannabis after being confronted by debilitating illness sufferers and their carers who accused him of moving too slowly on the issue.
Mr Baird gave an opening address at the United in Compassion Medicinal Cannabis Symposium in Sydney on Saturday, organised by Tamworth mother Lucy Haslam, who lost her 25-year-old son, Daniel, to cancer this year.
Mr Haslam used cannabis to relieve his symptoms in his five-year battle with the disease.
Lucy Haslam's campaign for change was rewarded in February when federal parliament passed laws allowing the cultivation of medicinal cannabis and the NSW government applied for a licence to grow the medicinal crop. But she expressed concerns people who used medicinal cannabis were still considered to be breaking the law. She said there was a need for compassion around the subject.
"The harsh reality is they are still facing an additional burden because they remain criminals. This is untenable," she told the audience. Cannabinoid research is clearly an area where science has not kept up due to a myriad of reasons, predominantly prohibition and the war on drugs." Mr Baird's speech was interrupted by audience members shouting, "How long have we got to wait?", that progress was "too slow" and "children dying's a reality."
"I assure you we are moving as quickly as we can," Mr Baird told the conference. With everything I have, and every resource in government, we are doing everything we can ... to make it as effective as we possibly can, to give access as quickly as we possibly can."
Mr Baird said his government had announced several trials and pledged $21 million to research medical cannabis. Following his address he was confronted by several advocates, including 20-year-old wheelchair-bound Stiff Person's Syndrome sufferer Ben Oakley, who said he had been taking cannabis oil.
"Honestly, I don't know where I'd be without the oil. The oil has saved my life," Mr Oakley told Mr Baird. "I've only had three spasms in the 11-and-a-half months I've been on the oil." Mr Baird told advocates: "I get it."
Also addressing the two-day conference is drug harm minimisation advocate Dr David Caldicott. He said medical cannabis could benefit patients with intractable epilepsy and terminal illnesses. "But Australia is progressing very slowly in this space," he told AAP.
Mr Baird announced the state government's Terminal Illness Cannabis Scheme would be renamed the Medical Cannabis Compassionate Use Scheme.
SBS/May 14, 2016
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