I support the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2017. I start by thanking the Leader of the Opposition for bringing this bill before the Parliament. This bill seeks to decriminalise the use and possession of cannabis for medicinal purposes. It extends to those who are experiencing unimaginable suffering and pain some temporary respite, some dignity and some basic human compassion.
The bill adopts key principles from the 2013 New South Wales Legislative Council inquiry and principally protects medicinal cannabis users and their carers from prosecution under criminal laws. It amends the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 and the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 1966 to allow for a registration scheme for users of medicinal cannabis and their carers.
The bill clearly sets out and defines those able to access the scheme, including those suffering from "an illness or condition that is likely to result in death within a reasonably foreseeable period". It also extends access to the scheme to those with "a serious illness or condition that is likely to result, or to continue to result, in a significant reduction in the person's quality of life". The bill sets parameters around the way that cannabinoids are administered, including limiting the amount of medicinal cannabis a user is able to carry and outlawing the administration of medicinal cannabis in public spaces. The bill places responsibility for the administration and enforcement of the scheme under the Public Health Act 2010—firmly where it belongs. Importantly, it provides a regulatory framework that allows for the production, storage and supply of medicinal cannabis. This ensures a lawful supply chain so that a compassionate use scheme is not an abstract or theoretical privilege but a practical right for those most in need.
Lawful supply continues to pose a significant obstacle to registrants under the existing Medicinal Cannabis Compassionate Use program, which the Minister for Health referred to earlier. Herein lies the difficulty that we confront. The Opposition's bill is a sensible and compassionate bill that will change the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our community at the most challenging and confronting times in their lives. Since the Government announced the commencement of its trials, my office has received a number of requests for constituents to be added to the Medicinal Cannabis Compassionate Use Scheme. I have been proud to assist them to do so and I thank the office of the Attorney General for dealing with the applications efficiently and professionally.
The first constituent that I assisted was a young man who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a life expectancy of only a few short months. He was in the process of receiving chemotherapy and other treatments which left him nauseous, dizzy and exhausted. In the final months of his life, faced with gruelling treatments and debilitating illness, medicinal cannabis offered relief from his pain and suffering. It also offered something far more precious than that; it offered him the stamina and strength to spend time with his wife and young children. As soon as my office was able to assist with registering him for the compassionate use scheme, another problem immediately presented itself: supply. How could he find the cannabis he had been granted permission to use?
After working through the process of researching and applying to register for the scheme, and after being offered hope once he was approved, yet again he hit a brick wall. In the final months of his life, he and his family have been left with the uncertainty of not knowing how to access cannabis. This legislation seeks to dismantle that wall. If we are to legislate a truly compassionate use scheme, together in this place we must go further than simply establishing a scheme, but also legislate for a legal chain of supply. We must not leave sufferers in legal limbo or leave them without the means to access the cannabinoids we have allowed them to use.
A second constituent of mine is an elderly gentlemen. He has had a rough go of things and is also living with a terminal cancer diagnosis. His prognosis is longer than the young man in my previous example but he is facing years of incapacitating illness. For him, whilst the need for medicinal cannabis is less urgent than in my first example, access to medicinal cannabis is a matter of quality of life. That is what many people here today are talking about. Cancer Care has noted that a large number of studies show that medicinal cannabis can assist cancer patients with pain management; relief from neuropathy, which can often be characterised by weakness, numbness, tingling, or the sensation of burning in the hands, feet or limbs; nausea and vomiting, the side effects of chemotherapy; anorexia, the loss of appetite; and muscle wasting. Some studies even report that medicinal cannabis may slow or stop the growth of certain tumours.
While this needs further interrogation, it is clear that a scheme such as the one Labor is proposing provides the best opportunity for the study and observation of the ways medicinal cannabis can assist patients. While elements of the Minister's contribution to this debate were very worthy and poignant, his dominant, overarching approach was cautious, which causes opportunities to be missed and results in these people being left in limbo. Our bill places responsibility for the enforcement and administration of the scheme in the Public Health Act 2010. This is the best way to ensure that the scheme is properly managed and that it will yield the strongest results, in terms of individual patient care and also with respect to medical research.
The bill empowers the Secretary of the Department of Health to review and, if needed, revoke licenses and registrations if there is clear evidence of misuse. It is just one of the very sensible safeguards built into the bill. Others include the requirement that medical cannabis not be administered in a public place and restrictions placed on the amount of cannabis that can be possessed. These measures place the proposed scheme within the current framework by which we manage illicit drug use. As debate continues about the best way to manage illicit drugs, there should be room to evolve these restrictions. Proposing a statutory review to the legislation in three years is sensible.
In March this year, I had the great privilege to meet with Lucy Haslam, a nurse, mother and probably reluctant activist from Tamworth. She is one of the most formidable and inspirational women I have met. Faced with the horror of her son's cancer diagnosis, she set about doing what any mother would do—helping him in whatever way she possibly could. Helping her son snowballed into lobbying the New South Wales Government and organising Australia's first Medicinal Cannabis Symposium in Tamworth in 2014. She has been instrumental in advancing the progress of a medicinal cannabis scheme in New South Wales and I take a moment to honour her, her husband, her daughter and, of course, her son Daniel, who passed away in 2015.
This bill stands on the shoulders of Lucy Haslam's great work and many other prominent activists and individuals who share their personal stories with us regularly. They have motivated many of us to become involved in this issue—to study it and to take a less cautious approach than the one explained by the Minister for Health. Instead, the Opposition members have looked at the lead of other jurisdictions, overseas and in this country. Some of my colleagues have indicated that other States are leading New South Wales on this issue. We have an opportunity right now, with this bill. It is offered in the same spirit as Lucy's activism—a powerful drive to be compassionate and pragmatic about the needs of the most vulnerable. I urge all those in this House to set aside the politics and to vote in favour of this historic bill. I commend the bill to the House.