In recent weeks there has been a robust discussion with in our community and in the media on the subject of medicinal cannabis trials in Tasmania.

During this discussion much misinformation has been reported.

It is important that crude cannabis – that is the leaf, resin or solutions – for recreational or medicinal use is not confused with the pharmacologically pure compounds extracted from cannabis.  

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.  

As recently reported, I met with Tasman Health Cannabinoids to discuss their proposal to undertake a medicinal cannabis trial in Tasmania.  The trial as proposed to me was to grow cannabis, extract the cannabinoid compounds and administer processed cannabinoids to chemotherapy patients. The treatment of pain or epilepsy in children was not included in the proposal.

It has also been reported that the trial would be in partnership with the University of Tasmania, however to date I have not received any approach from the university.

The trial proposed by Tasman Health Cannabinoids raised a number of issues including that no assessment had been 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.  

Unfortunately the business representatives could not adequately address the concerns surrounding the security, safety and the potential for social harm of the trial, and as such I had no option other than to reject their proposal.  

Given that marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in Tasmania it is vitally important that the security measures for growing cannabis for a trial are robust and prevent the misuse of the plant. Many have referred to our successful poppy industry but poppy growing has different security requirements. This is mainly due to poppies requiring a higher degree of processing before they can be used illicitly and that they carry a high risk of fatal injury if not handled safely. Whereas cannabis can be used illicitly in its crude form with little processing.

I support Australia’s long term commitment to ensuring that all medicines on the Australian market have high standard evidence of quality, safety and efficacy.  I do not believe that medicinal cannabis should be held to any higher or lower standards for evidence of quality, safety and efficacy than other therapeutic products.  

It is important that 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 for those patients who require them.  The regulation and approval of these products occurs at a federal level through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

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.

The use of industrial hemp is a different matter from medicinal cannabis. The Tasmanian Government supports the removal of unnecessary regulation that prevents a viable industrial hemp industry being established in Tasmania. Non-psychoactive cannabis used in industrial hemp has a wide range of uses from paper, fibre, food and fuel and the Liberal Government supports this industry.

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

I know that for carers of loved ones suffering from illness or injury the use of alternative therapies and medicines is sometimes the end of the line and seen as a last resort. So I understand the frustration if it is felt that the Government is blocking access to something that may work better than other medicines.

The strong sentiments expressed in the discussion about this matter shows that the Legislative Council inquiry will likely receive many submissions and I encourage those interested in the matter to consider making a submission.

Michael Ferguson MP

Minister for Health

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