Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill

Extract from Hansard – Wednesday 12th October, 2016

 Mr ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (10.15 pm): I rise to make a very short contribution to the debate on the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill. The amendments and the legislation that we are talking about tonight are very important in terms of the care and compassion that we as Queenslanders can show for people, whether they are friends or relatives, who are suffering great pain as a result of the illnesses that they have. In a world that is rapidly changing in every possible way, the inevitability of death remains constant. We are living longer courtesy of advances in medical treatments, but for some the side effects are so unbearable that lifesaving or life-extending treatments are denied, placing families, carers and health professionals in excruciating predicaments.

 In my electorate of Noosa, almost 25 per cent of the population is aged 65 years and over, which compares to the Queensland state average of 14.4 per cent. We are all aware of the health challenges that are part and parcel of the ageing process and, sadly, the strain that ultimately places on the public health system.

 In history, there are many examples where fear and ignorance have stifled governments from making the right decision or the caring decision. Of course, in the absence of sufficient evidence it is always right to do no harm and protect citizens. In the case of medicinal cannabis, a significant amount of research has been conducted, compiled, reported on and, indeed, taken up by governments all around the world, including our own federal government, which in February of this year amended the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to establish a national licensing scheme for the lawful cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products. As a result, New South Wales has established the Medicinal Cannabis Compassionate Use Scheme.

 I am very pleased to see that, as part of the safeguards within our own legislation, Queensland will review this legislation in two years time. Most of us are aware that medicinal cannabis would be helpful for terminally ill patients. However, as more research is conducted, we have learned that children suffering with epilepsy also benefit. If medicinal cannabis can significantly reduce the numbers of debilitating seizures with minimal or no side effects and give millions of sufferers a chance to live a relatively normal life, what other brain or nerve disorders will prove to benefit from its use? Who are we to stifle that ground-breaking research, particularly when we have been open to botanical science before? It would simply be short-sighted and cowardice not to do so again.

 Surely the use of medicinal cannabis can be fully explored as part of the end-of-life discussion that we are currently having as a global community. ABC presenter Andrew Denton’s campaign for dying with dignity and the significant number of supporters who seek to have more control on their end-of-life experience try to remove the taboos that prevent us from looking at death differently. Before we as a society or a state can have a debate on euthanasia, we should have explored all of the possibilities for lessening pain and suffering. How can we take the leap from where we are today to debating euthanasia when there are other options to help reduce the unrelenting pain and suffering that is so intolerable and so excruciating the only solution appears to be death? In an electorate-wide survey I conducted last year, 79 per cent of respondents supported voluntary euthanasia. If pain and suffering could be significantly reduced and if a reasonable quality of life could be achieved, one wonders whether that statistic would have been different. Of all of the forms of life that make up our world, humans are the only ones with the ability to cure or ease suffering. To legislate and to legalise medicinal cannabis is an act of compassion. It is humane and it is a prudent step in our collective journey toward the end of life.