Medical Cannabis Advocates Are Split On The Greens' Recreational Weed Plan

Some advocates fear it may muddy the waters in the fight for greater access to medicinal products

What you need to know
  • The Greens announced a policy to legalise marijuana for recreational purposes in April
  • Some medical cannabis advocates are worried about how that will affect the push for better access
  • "I’m sure it will muddy the waters", one said
  • Others say it would be a big step forward in normalising the use of the drug and aid in better access for health reasons

Advocates for medical cannabis have reacted to the federal Greens' plan to legalise marijuana for recreational use with split opinions, with some worried that the radical proposal may derail progress towards greater access to therapeutic products.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale announced on April 16 that his party would push for full legalisation of recreational marijuana, outlining a policy whereby a central government agency would be charged with wholesale selling the product to shops around the country, as well as issuing licences to grow and sell marijuana. Di Natale, a former drug and alcohol doctor, said the plan would help to raise millions in tax revenue, as well as preventing marijuana users from entering the criminal or prison system for using the drug.

"Governments around the world are realising that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents," he said.

The Greens have long supported the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, but despite the drug being legalised in 2016, advocates and those wanting to use marijuana to address medical issues say progress is slow and access is limited. Advocates claim many doctors refuse to prescribe the drug, and that red tape and bureaucracy between state and federal governments is stifling the ability to access medical marijuana, making access all but impossible.

ten daily spoke to a range of medical cannabis advocates about the Greens plan to legalise recreational marijuana, who revealed a range of opinions on the proposal from full support to outright opposition on the grounds that it may muddy the waters in the push for greater access to medicinal products.

"There are those always happy to jump on the bandwagon, just wanting to legalise it. I’m not going to fight for it, it's not my agenda to get recreational cannabis. I’m for people who need it for medical and therapeutic reasons," said prominent campaigner Lucy Haslam.

"I’m sure it will muddy the waters [on greater medicinal access] but I think Richard Di Natale is right, we need to admit the war on drugs is failing."

Dr David Caldicott, of the Australian National University medical school, is an emergency physician, drug reform advocate and founding member of the Australian Medical Cannabis Observatory. He told ten daily the Greens announcement would give ammunition to medical cannabis opponents.

"You’ll always have particularly conservative politicians or people who are going to confound medicinal and recreational cannabis for political purposes. We’ve already seen suggestions of that already. They’re two very different entities, two different political positions, and quite how that will play out politically in Australia, we’ll have to wait and see," he said.

"The problem is, we’ve seen what a complete dog's breakfast has been made of medicinal cannabis. Multiply that by 1000, that's probably what we’re looking at in the political debate on recreational."

"It may give succour to the people who already don't know the difference between the two. Within the slightly more lunatic fringes of conservative commentary, some people will say ‘told you so’. I think it will be used by tabloid elements of media."

"Certainly not just for fun."

Federal health minister Greg Hunt slammed the Greens plan, claiming marijuana was "a gateway drug" and that "the risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented."

A scan of comments on Australian Facebook pages supporting medical cannabis also reveals some opposition to the plan on political grounds.

"Makes me sad that to think that we are really getting off track , recreational is another fight altogether, I am here for the people who need it for medical conditions. It means life or death to some, certainly not just for fun," read a post published by a NSW-based company that manufactures medicinal cannabis products.

"I'm so angry watching all that today. It just takes all the positives about medicinal cannabis away," one person commented on that post.

"I’m so glad I’m not the only one incensed by the diversion to recreational use...which when compared to medicinal use, seems incredibly petty and inconsequential," said another.

However,  others wholeheartedly supported the Greens' push.

High-profile advocate in Jenny Hallam, a South Australian woman who is facing legal action over supplying cannabis products to sick people free of charge, said she had spoken to Di Natale about the announcement.

"The way [the government] has made access so damn hard with medicinal, this is a way that anyone who needs it medically can access it. If anyone can get it recreationally,  people who need it won't have to jump through hoops and find someone who will prescribe it," she told ten daily.

"People could make their own oil, or buy pre-made products or edibles, so they can dose themselves. Basically do what they're doing now on the black market, but legally. There are a lot of people who think medical is diff to recreational, but it's not. Cannabis is cannabis. That's what it comes down to."

Hallam admitted she held worries that the Greens' policy may blur the lines between the separate issues of medicinal cannabis for therapeutic reasons and recreational marijuana, but that she still supported the push anyway.

"They've tied the medical thing up so badly that almost nobody can access it. It was legalised in 2016 but we only have a few hundred people accessing it legally when thousands need it," she said.

"We have the opponents out there will bitch and moan, saying we’re stoners who want to get stoned... but that’s like saying everyone who drinks is an alcoholic. I am concerned the opponents will be carrying on. It is a problem, it worries me that it might muddy the waters, but that's not enough for me to stop."

"We want freedom of choice"

Deb Lynch, of the Medical Cannabis Users Association of Australia, echoed Hallam's comments, adding that it should be considered as an alternative medicine and not part of the scheduling at all

"Businesses can have products on the shelves with a variety of products, or people who want to grow it at home can do that. We want freedom of choice. It’s really needed with cannabis. Every strain is different, every person is different, even people with the same condition may not use the same product, because it’s a personalised treatment. [The Greens' policy] is a great thing. It’s an end to prohibition."

Adam Miller, the CEO of marijuana industry consulting firm Budding Tech, said he supported the Greens' policy but wanted the focus to remain squarely on medicinal products for the time being.

"My concern is that the recreational market may jeopardise the medical market in the short-term.  It’s important to get medical right first, to make sure people have access to a good product, then once we have that sorted out, recreational can be introduced," he said.

Miller pointed to overseas examples in Canada and several states in the USA legalising marijuana for recreational purposes, saying the reform was "an inevitability" in Australia. However, he said he would prefer to see medicinal cannabis access addressed first.

"I  support the push but the focus should be on the medical at this point."