There has been a robust discussion in the community and media over the past fortnight on the subject of a medicinal cannabis trial in Tasmania and it is important to bust some of the myths and misinformation which have surfaced.

First of all, let us be clear. Contrary to popular myth, cannabis can be harmful and has significant negative health impacts.

It can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer and serious mental health problems including depression and psychosis. Many Tasmanian families have suffered the consequences of cannabis use.

Last week, I met with Tasman Health Cannabinoids to discuss their proposal for growing cannabis in Tasmania. The trial, as proposed to me, was to give processed cannabinoids to chemotherapy patients. The treatment of pain or epilepsy in children were not included in the proposal. The trial proposed did not include cannabinoids which are already registered or available for research.

It has been said that the trial would be in partnership with the University of Tasmania but I have received no approach from the university.

No assessment was undertaken by either the business or the university of the shareholders ability to fund the trial, nor the university’s ability to process the cannabinoids. The business representatives did not adequately address concerns surrounding the security, safety and the potential for social harm of the trial, and as such I rejected their push for medicinal cannabis trials in Tasmania.

It is true the Poppy Growers Association also expressed preliminary concerns to the Minister for Primary Industries about the potential impact medical cannabis could have on their industry’s reputation. A crucial factor in the international community.

While it was not the main reason for my decision to reject the proposed medical cannabis trial in Tasmania, the apparent divergent views within the State’s poppy industry only confirm that the Government was wise to take a precautionary approach.

In being willing to listen to proposals but maintaining current laws on cannabis, we have taken the same approach as every other state. No state in Australia currently allows medical cannabis, in fact New South Wales also recently rejected such a move.

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Tasmania, and consideration of any use of this substance must be balanced with the continuing misuse of the plant and the requirement to police the black market.

Medicinal cannabis is a different issue to the recreational use of cannabis so great care must be taken to ensure that any trial or clinical use of medicinal cannabis does not make recreational use appear more socially acceptable.

It is also important Tasmanians know there are already a number of cannabinoid medicines which are legally registered for multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and AIDS-related weight loss patients who need them.

The regulation and approval of these products occurs at a federal level through the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

This framework is established by State and Commonwealth legislation and is designed to provide all of us with safe and effective medications. The TGA standard is the standard of Governments across the country. This is an important piece of information Labor and the Greens have neglected to tell Tasmanians these past weeks.

The Tasmanian Government is acting responsibly to encourage pharmaceutical and medical research in a way that protects people.

We welcome the Legislative Council inquiry into this issue and hope this will allow for an informed debate in the community which will be respectfully responded to by the Government.

* The text of this article is republished here from an OpEd piece first published in The Advocate on Jul 11th 2014

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