Government’s response to dying man’s plea ‘patronising, insulting’

11th Feb 2021

Patronising, insulting and dangerously wrong. That is the only way to describe the response of the Tasmanian government’s spokesman to the passionate plea by a dying cancer patient to Premier Peter Gutwein about the inhumane lack of availability of medicinal cannabis in the state. The articulate and rational case put forward by 75-year-old Peter Fielding in a video to the Premier was met with a cold bureaucratic response by the government.

According to the spokesman, medical cannabis products are ‘unproven’. After sending the government’s sympathies to Mr Fielding, the response said, ‘The Controlled Access Scheme allows Tasmanians with a serious illness, which has not responded to conventional therapies, to access unproven medical cannabis products when prescribed by a suitably qualified relevant medial specialist.’ It went on in the same vein but the message was: we are going to continue our prejudice against cannabis.

Mr Fielding’s own experience with medicinal cannabis tells us that it works for him. Like millions across the world who are suffering excruciating pain because of cancer and other serious illnesses, Mr Fielding told the Mercury that after he was able to access medicinal cannabis through a friend ‘almost overnight he could eat again and his speech improved’.

‘Before medicinal cannabis, my pain level was eight out of ten. After cannabis, there were many days when I felt no pain at all,’ said Mr Fielding.

There are thousands of people living in Tasmania who are opting to break an absurd and cruel law which criminalises the use of cannabis. They are doing this because the government access scheme is so strangled by red tape that only 19 patients are accessing medicinal cannabis through it. The rest are growing their own plants, having others grow it for them, or buying it through networks. In return, these individuals, like Mr Fielding, are able to get back some form of quality of life along with the bonus of not becoming addicted to pharmaceutical pain killers.

Medicinal cannabis products are not ‘unproven’. It would be much more accurate and frankly honest to say that there is increasing evidence supporting the use of medicinal cannabis.

A paper published last year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by researchers from the University of Florida examined more than 2,200 studies on medicinal cannabis and found that a ‘significant proportion of patients in the United States with cancer use cannabis and/or cannabinoids’. The paper stated that there ‘is substantial evidence for the effectiveness of cannabis and cannabinoids in treating cancer-related pain; specifically, oromucosal THC/CBD spray. There is conclusive evidence for the effectiveness of cannabis and cannabinoids in relieving chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting; specifically, oral THC. There is inconclusive evidence regarding the effectiveness of cannabis and cannabinoids in treating cancer-related cachexia.’

This paper’s findings are similar to those published earlier this month in Current Treatment Options in Oncology by Israeli researchers. While cautious, the paper described ‘the favourable outcomes demonstrating the benefits of cannabis as an adjunctive treatment to conventional medicines for chemotherapy-induced nausea, vomiting, and cancer-related pain (primarily refractory chronic or neuropathic pain). Although not yet substantial enough, the treatment of anorexia, insomnia, depression, and anxiety is also seemingly favourable.’

The Tasmanian government needs to recognise the reality that medicinal cannabis is here to stay and is far from being ‘unproven’. There is a growing body of evidence that tells us why Mr Fielding and others are so passionate about ensuring that government does not continue its absurdly cautious and prejudiced approach to cannabis.

A more sensible approach would be to head down the US path where medicinal cannabis is readily available in the majority of states in a regulated market which is creating investment and employment, in addition to improving health outcomes for patients. Tasmania, overly reliant on too few sectors of the economy, should be pushing to lead the nation in making cannabis available to patients, if not also to recreational users.

Put it this way. Watch Mr Fielding’s video, listen to your friends who are using medicinal cannabis to relieve their pain, and ask yourself this question: should they be treated as law-breakers or criminals just because they are refusing to put up with the irrational anti-cannabis forces in Tasmania that exist shamefully in the medical profession and the health bureaucracy, as well as among politicians?

Next time the Tasmanian government media office is asked for a response on medicinal cannabis, how about showing some compassion and recognising that the world is waking up to the benefits of this drug.

This is an edited version of an article that was first published on The Mercury.

Greg Barns SC is a barrister and National Criminal Justice Spokesman for the ALA.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: Law reform