Over 20 states in America have already legalised some form of medicinal use of marijuana.
The question on many Australians minds is, will the same thing happen here?
With public support for the allowance of medicinal marijuana standing at 69%, according to a survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it is clear that the issue has garnered significant public support.
This topic is one that crops up in the public debate regularly.
It is not too surprising that it is a Greens Member of Parliament who is championing the legalisation of marijuana for medical use in the ACT.
However in NSW, Liberal Premier Mike Baird has stated that he too is sympathetic to those suffering chronic pain which can be relieved by the use of cannabis.
But he does harbour concerns about supply and regulation of the drug if it did become legal for medicinal use.
The proposed scheme in the ACT is that personal use of marijuana would be allowed for those who fit into one of three categories:
- Those with a terminal illness who have been given just 12 months or less to live
- Those who are suffering from a serious illness like HIV or AIDS, cancer, spinal cord injury, and multiple sclerosis
- Those who suffer from chronic or debilitating conditions
Under the suggested scheme, subscribers would be issued permits that lasted for 12 months at a time.
Either approved patients or their carers would be allowed to grow cannabis for their own personal use.
Those applying would need approval from the chief health officer.
Whether or not NSW will consider such a policy will depend largely on the government substantially rethinking their stance on drugs.
While the government does not seem to be inclined to change their current position, there are several reasons why perhaps they should.
Currently, Australians who use marijuana medicinally are breaking the law.
Police can either charge them and take them to court or, if the quantity is less than 15 grams, caution them under the ‘cannabis cautioning scheme’.
If taken to court, a person could face a maximum penalty of two years in prison and/or a $2,200 fine.
For cultivation and supply the penalties are even harsher.
If you are caught growing cannabis in NSW the penalties for cultivation, if it is dealt with in the Local court you may face a maximum jail time of two years as well as a fine of $5,500.
If however, your case is dealt with in the District court, a small quantity of five plants or less comes with a maximum 10 years and/or a $220,000 fine.
Legalising cannabis for personal use for those suffering serious medical conditions would remove these illegalities and ensure that those genuinely seeking relief from severe pain or chronic illness would not be criminalised.
On the other side of the argument, there are also concerns that the long-term and short-term effects of using marijuana medicinally have not yet been adequately researched.
Although there was a proposed trial in 2003 under the Carr government, for studying the medical use of cannabis, it never went ahead. Successive governments never progressed with the trial.
While smoking marijuana is harmful, even more so than cigarettes, recent health research has shown alternatives like synthetic cannabinoids are safer and more effective for medical use than marijuana.
However, these synthetic drugs are also illegal. There is currently a trial underway testing a synthetic cannabis product that is absorbed via an oral spray for relieving uncontrolled and persistent pain.
The Cancer Council NSW acknowledges that which marijuana may be useful for relieving pain in some circumstances and have other benefits, smoking the drug can be particularly harmful.
They recommend that the NSW government rethink their position.
They note that synthetic cannabis products, such as those which are absorbed through an oral spray would be preferable.
Although legalising marijuana would no doubt relieve the pain and suffering of chronically ill Australians, and be welcomed by many, it does not seem likely to happen anytime soon.