More than a year after the Australian government legalized medical cannabis, patients in South Australia are still waiting for a scheme to effectively access medicine.
One lawmaker, Greens MP Tammy Franks, has criticized the government’s handling of the access issue as “offensive” and “a joke”—and she’s now leading the charge for reform.
Franks, one of two Greens members in South Australia’s Legislative Council, has been involved in the campaign for access to medical cannabis for the past three years. For the past two, she’s been conducting forums for other members of Parliament and their staff in order to educate them about medical cannabis. Earlier this month, she held a special forum on the extreme difficulties South Australian patients face trying to access medical cannabis.
Greens MP Tammy Franks
“The problem is that the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric, and the federal piece of legislation is not progressing the way it should,” Franks said. “Well over a year since that bill passed, we still don’t actually have people able to go to their doctor and get a prescription for medical cannabis in South Australia.”
To some, it almost feels like they’re losing ground. Earlier this year, a police raid and the arrest of a medical cannabis oil producer in South Australia were met with a public outcry.
There are complex reasons why the obstacles to access remain, Franks said. “The areas we’ve identified as barriers are things like lack of training for the medical profession, lack of knowledge, lack of a streamlined system that a medical professional can take to get approvals, [and] the fact that we don’t have a single authorized prescriber in South Australia under that federal system,” she explained.
Of the 24 authorized prescribers in the country, Franks pointed out, 22 are in the state of New South Wales.
“My focus at the moment is getting some pressure on the state Department of Health to act,” she said, “and to create a simple scheme that is accessible to those who need it.” She’s also calling on the government to follow Queensland’s example by giving doctors a simple, streamlined, legally protected way to ensure patient access—while at the same time offering educational material medical professionals. “We need to be joining those dots, because people in this situation needing medical cannabis are sick, suffering, stressed, and need all the support they can get,” she said.
The South Australian government, whose leader, Jay Weatherill, has recently made headlines for ripping into the federal energy minister, put up a limp defense of the existing scheme. The Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation noted that a only single patient has been able to access medical cannabis.
“The idea that one person has been able to access it,” Franks said, “that is a joke if the government thinks that that is somehow something to crow about it.”
“One patient gaining access isn’t a success story,” she added. “I think it actually highlighted that we were right to draw attention to the issue.”
Franks warned that when patients can’t secure access to medicine through a government-sacntioned scheme, the alternative involves turning to the black market. “What worries me is that there are people of different motivations involved in that part of the industry. Some are incredibly well meaning and thorough and careful, but some are in it for a quick buck, and there is a quick buck to be made from sick and suffering people in Australia right now because the laws are failing us.”