Victoria says that the use of medical marijuana will be legal by 2017 for people with serious medical conditions.
But contrary to some reports and social media posts, marijuana will not be legalised for personal or recreational use.
Following recommendations contained in a report by the Victoria Law Reform Commission, the state will be conducting trials for those suffering from a range of serious medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and chronic pain.
The report contains 42 recommendations, including that cannabis growth should be controlled under a strict licensing scheme. The Victorian government has confirmed that growers will be closely monitored and their output tracked and weighed. The marijuana will only be available to those with a prescription from a specialist.
The report states that:
“The opportunity exists for a combined Commonwealth and Victorian initiative to relieve suffering and to improve the quality of life for a vulnerable cohort of people within the community.”
Under the trial, children suffering from severe epilepsy will be the first to get access to medicinal cannabis by 2017. It will then be provided to cancer patients, those with HIV/AIDS, severe pain and nausea.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews stated that:
“There are about 450 or those beautiful little people and they’re going to get legally for the first time the medicine that they need to transform their lives, and indeed to save their lives.
The time has come for us to stop finding reasons not to do this.”
Despite the scheme’s limitations, marijuana advocates have welcomed the move as a positive step forward.
Does the Scheme Conflict with Commonwealth Laws?
There are a number of federal laws that regulate the cultivation, manufacture, supply and use of drugs in Australia.
Generally, Commonwealth laws trump State laws – but there are ways around this in the context of drug regulation. For example, Victoria can pass laws making it legal to grow its own cannabis, but would need the Commonwealth to make legal concessions in order to enable importation.
Under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), all steps involved in making and distributing illicit drugs are criminalised unless authorised by a state or territory. Similar laws are contained in the Crimes (Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act 1990 (Cth), but these are not designed to exclude state and territory laws.
This means that states are allowed to make their own laws about drugs, as long as they do not conflict with our international obligations, such as those contained in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961). That Convention says that narcotic drugs, including cannabis, can only be made available for medical and scientific purposes. The obligation is reinforced in the UN Convention of Psychotropic Substances (1971).
The Importance of the Scheme
Dr Ian Freckelton QC, who headed the Victorian review, believes that the scheme will be groundbreaking and innovative. He says that the researchers were “struck” with the emotional and moving stories of people suffering from serious illnesses who experienced relief through the (illegal) use of marijuana.
The scheme means that sufferers will no longer face the prospect of criminal charges and the associated social stigma for using marijuana, and will be able to access the drug freely and easily.
Many feel that more research needs to occur into the effects of cannabis on chronic illness, and its side-effects. To that end, NSW, Victoria and Queensland are scheduled to conduct trials to research the drug’s clinical benefits, and any negative effects.