Medicinal Cannabis Bill

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Access to Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2015, and the Greens will be supporting this bill because we strongly support this reform to make medicinal cannabis legal and safe, in much the same way other medications are. The Greens, like many people across this Parliament here in Victoria, federally and across other states, understand the benefits that medicinal cannabis can provide. For too long the legal constraints and stigma associated with medicinal cannabis and the stigma with cannabis in general as an illegal drug has meant that children with epilepsy and people suffering the effects of cancer and the treatment that comes with cancer have had to go on suffering unnecessarily.

The Greens have always supported a compassionate and evidence-based approach to medicinal cannabis, and we are very pleased that this legislation has come before this Parliament.

Alternatively they have had to purchase medicinal cannabis products through the black market, and they are unregulated and unprescribed, meaning the quality of the product cannot be assured or the dose levels that are required are unknown. In some places you have sick people and their families facing the prospect of prosecution or questioning by the police or departmental authorities.

This bill permits the government to take carriage and oversight of the rollout of access to medicinal cannabis over the years as the industry establishes itself. This, we hope, will provide relief to people suffering from a range of conditions, and appropriately the bill prioritises those children suffering from severe epilepsy for whom there are no alternative treatments and who are in significant need. We look forward to the government expanding access to medicinal cannabis for other conditions as production comes online and the evidence base grows. We are also pleased to note that there are exceptions or an allowance for exceptional circumstances that would enable someone with a specific condition to access medicinal cannabis where there is no reliable scientific research but for which it is likely to help, which is a sensible approach.

In terms of the product, we welcome the government's approach to medicinal cannabis products, which we believe will consolidate medicinal cannabis as a legitimate, reliable and appropriate medication for all Victorians. It will be processed to ensure its quality and consistency, to ensure the reliability of the effective agents in the medication and to minimise the psychotropic agents that are otherwise available in raw cannabis. This product will be prescribed by specialist doctors in appropriate doses for particular conditions, after which people will be able to purchase it through pharmacies, with this being overseen by GPs. This is essential to ensure that it is treated like any other medication that has been prescribed and that has been scientifically proven to treat a particular condition.

In terms of the Independent Medical Advisory Committee, we welcome the establishment of this committee to guide the rollout of the drug to treat various conditions. It is important that the use of medicinal cannabis is backed up by science as it becomes available so that we have the confidence of the community, as we do in relation to other products such as those derived from medicinal poppies.

We welcome the price cap on the sale of medicinal cannabis and the government's control of sales within the supply chain. As pharmaceutical benefits scheme subsidies are not available for medicinal cannabis, this price control is essential to ensure that the product is affordable and that consumers are not driven back to the black market due to cost issues.

In terms of the Victorian Law Reform Commission's recommendations in relation to eligibility for the use of medicinal cannabis, eligibility was recommended for people with severe muscle spasms or severe pain resulting from multiple sclerosis; severe pain, nausea and vomiting; wasting resulting from cancer, HIV or AIDS, or the treatment thereof; severe seizures resulting from epileptic conditions where other treatment options have not proven effective or have generated side effects that are intolerable for the patient; and severe chronic pain for which, in the view of two medical practitioners, medicinal cannabis may in all circumstances provide pain management that is superior to what can be provided by other options. We are a bit concerned that the government has not fully made clear its intentions in relation to this recommendation and the time frames for access. We understand that eligibility in respect of these and other conditions will be defined by the minister at a later stage, perhaps in 2018. Certainly we will be seeking further clarity in relation to this.

I will make a point also about the regulations. This legislation allows the minister to set a very wide range of regulations in relation to medicinal cannabis, and at this stage we have limited information regarding the government's intentions in relation to the product range, the labelling, the packaging, the advertising and a range of other aspects over which the minister would have regulatory powers. We would certainly like some more detail from the government in regard to its intentions in these particular areas of regulatory control.

As has been detailed by previous speakers, there are federal actions in this area, and this legislation finds a way through the federal and international legal restrictions to create a new Victorian industry. The legislation does this together with some federal reforms that I understand will allow this industry to move ahead unimpeded in Victoria. The federal Greens, including Victorian senator Richard Di Natale, have been leading the way. They introduced a private members bill to create a national regulatory body for the governance, manufacture and sale of medicinal cannabis. However, the federal government is pursuing its own legislation, which is a national licensing scheme for the cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis. That is only the first step, with much more to be done to ensure medicinal cannabis products can reach the hands of those who need them.

To conclude, the Greens are very pleased to see this legislation in Parliament. It will help so many who are suffering from health issues, and we look forward to a sensible, evidence-based approach to the area of medicinal cannabis and to wider drug law reform in the future.