A game changer’s journey

Medicinal cannabis has been legalised in many nations for the treatment of life threatening and limiting conditions. Pat Gillett spoke to the State Member of Parliament, One Nation’s Steve Dickson, who was the instigator of the push to legalise it in Queensland.

Why did you become interested in this issue?

It started with people coming to my office. I had legal professionals come here, ladies, a paramedic, a couple of nurses and they brought a young boy to see me. He has 500 epileptic fits a day and his parents got him under whole plant medical cannabis which is derived illegally, which is not a good thing but they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to keep their child alive.

Tell me about how you helped people to gain legal access to the treatment.

Last year the State Government passed legislation … let’s just say [originally the LNP] thought it was funny. They thought it was about people smoking pot, having a good time breaking a law.

As of the first of March this year you’re supposed to be able to go to a doctor to get a script to get whole plant medical cannabis. Problem is we don’t grow any in this country yet. There have been permits given out.

There’s actually a company here on the Coast. There’s nine throughout Australia that have got permits but this is a little bit unique. [It’s licence is] to grow, harvest and manufacture which is all three in one. It’s a holistic company, which is going to be good for people who need this stuff, but still the issue since they’re not going to have product on the table until early [2018].

Have many people who come to see you been growing their own plants illegally?

There’s a lady in South Australia. She was growing it and distributing throughout the country and I believe there was a number of people who do this. That’s up to them what they do. I’m not going to endorse doing black market drugs, or black market medicine but it’s a reality and we have to deal with it. I’m not going to commend or crucify them. That’s not for me to do.

What I’ve been trying to do is get to a point where people can get a legally run product in Australia that doesn’t have any harmful elements to it because you don’t know when just Joe Blow is doing this what’s going to be in the mixture.

That’s people making conscious decisions to use this stuff and I can understand where they’re coming from. My goal is to have a whole plant medical cannabis made available that is absolutely clinically safe, that people can get cheaply and it can be prescribed by a local GP.

Is the electorate still confused about the difference between recreational and medicinal use of cannabis?

I think that’s a perception absolutely and it is a sad perception because we produce 53 per cent of the world’s opium out of Tasmania for medical purposes. You know what opium does: it makes some pretty bad drugs and so I think the thing that disappoints me greatly is that the politicians didn’t open their mind quickly enough.

I think there are a lot of politicians who want to see this happen quicker but probably haven’t been brave enough to put the hand up and go with it and say we’re going to push for this. At the end of the day I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

A lot of people who need this medicine but it’s about the next one, 10, 50, 100 years into the future. If you get it right from day one you’ve got a very strong foundation that this will continue to grow, people will be able to access it and it should be done affordable way.

I know the Israelis are the best in the world of this because they’ve been doing it for a number of years. They do use it for tremors, post-traumatic stress disorder which they have a lot of over there being in the Middle East.

Was the government willing to work with you on making sure the legislation was correct?

The State Government I think are in a position where they probably want to do the right thing. I’ve worked with [Minister for Health] Cameron Dick but there are issues with the Bill that moved forward. Still today we don’t have GPs in Queensland who are putting their hand up to prescribe this stuff.

There is pushback from the AMA because they want to make sure they go through all the possible clinical trials that they can go through to say, “this thing? Yep, 100 per cent safe. Tick in the box. All good”. The issue we’ve got they won’t use the work that has already been done in Israel.

I was at a parliamentary inquiry on my Bill that is before the House at the moment and questions kept getting asked to the president of the AMA: “Why won’t you use the information that has already been gathered by the Israelis?” And he just won’t even talk about Israel at all.

There are trials that are being done all over the world. I mean, if it works in Israel and it works in Canada, works in the United States — I’m pretty sure work in Australia.

What about the other cross benchers? Are they in support?

Peter Wellington has actually been a very big supporter. I’ve got to give Peter a tick in the box. I wrote to a lot of MPs in Queensland asking for support in this area and he’s one of the few that actually answered and also Rob Pyne.

He made me aware that there are numerous people who require this whole plant medical cannabis to assist them with pain and to assist them with many, many debilitating illnesses that they have.

Once it has been established, do you think more GPs will come on board and register to prescribe it?

I do. I think it’s an education process more than anything and I understand them being concerned because at the moment … if something happened they’re going to go after the doctor who prescribed it. That’s what’ll happen.

We’ve got to get through these little obstacles on the way and by having a product that is always going to be growing the same, you end up with the same quality and the same power and that drug if it’s for post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy or tremors or whatever. This is what the Israelis have done.

So why wouldn’t you use what they’ve done. Don’t reinvent the wheel that somebody’s made. Let’s use theirs.


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