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Politicians back families seeking medical marijuana

HELPFUL: Becky Bonaccorsi and Kaitlyn Spraggon use medicinal marijuana.
HELPFUL: Becky Bonaccorsi and Kaitlyn Spraggon use medicinal marijuana. John McCutcheon

EACH day, severely and terminally ill Coast patients struggle to manage excruciating pain.

But last May, they were offered a glimmer of hope.

The Palaszczuk government had just announced the introduction of "landmark" legislation paving the way for medicinal marijuana use, as the Premier claimed stories of young children with life-threatening epilepsy had moved her to take action.

Eight months later, those same children are still reliant on a black-market supply of marijuana oils to control illnesses which could end their life at any moment.

"The hospital gave us no other options," said Steve Peek, who has been using the drug for more than 18 months to control his daughter's violent seizures.

Eight-year-old Suli suffers an undetermined neurological disorder and uncontrollable epilepsy.

Treatment with pharmaceutical medication gave her bleeding stomach ulcers and caused her to stop breathing on more than one occasion.

"We decided to use the cannabis oil to see what it could do, and the seizures stopped," Mr Peek said.

"It's given her the only chance at a quality of life, and twice now, once in the hospital and once at home, it's actually saved her life."

Under existing state and federal law, what Mr Peek is doing is illegal.

He and a handful of other Queenslanders have been sourcing their medicine from Adelaide producer Jenny Hallam, who supplied more than 200 Australians with marijuana oils for free until her home was raided by South Australian police last week and her medicine confiscated.

The cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes was legalised by the Federal Government in February last year, and the nation's first marijuana farm has been established in Victoria, although it was yet to yield any products.

However, a number of stringent measures apply, and in Queensland, patients must undergo a series of processes in order to access marijuana-derived medicine.

Like Mr Peek, Katrina Spraggon has been using Ms Hallam's oils to ease her daughter Kaitlyn's pain and seizures, brought on by 19 different medical conditions.

Since the raid, Ms Spraggon has been rationing the eight-year-old's medicine and within two days, woke up to her daughter in the middle of a full-blown/tonic-clonic seizure, dark blue from a lack of oxygen.

"If I run out of (marijuana oil), it's obvious (Kaitlyn) will die because her seizure won't stop until it touches her gum," Ms Spraggon said.

The mother-of-four said she'd been advised to enrol her daughter in a medicinal marijuana trial conducted at Brisbane's Lady Cilento children's hospital, inclusion in the program requires children to be free of any marijuana products for at least a month, an option Ms Spraggon said is "impossible".

"I couldn't take her off it. I just couldn't," she said.

"It's the only thing that's saved her life. It's not even a question we could consider."

Even if Kaitlyn or Suli were able to get a prescription through the trials, legal products aren't yet available in Australia, meaning their parents would need to import medicine from places like The Netherlands and Canada.

This process requires another round of applications to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and a hefty fee for the imported product, a price of about $3000 per month Ms Spraggon said.

If approved, only one week's supply of medicine can be dispensed.

A spokesperson for the Acting Minister for Health and Ambulance Services said such restrictions are in place to ensure quality and control over the narcotic substance.

"The use of recreational or unregulated medicinal cannabis fails to ensure that products are both safe and effective," they said.

But the unwieldy bureaucratic process takes time, time children like Suli and Kaitlyn may not have.

In the interim, Buderim MP Steve Dickson has called for an amnesty for families currently using the drug so access to medicine can be assured, at least until the new state legislation takes effect in March.

 

 

Steve Dickson is on board to familes seeking access to medical marijuana.
Steve Dickson is on board to familes seeking access to medical marijuana. John McCutcheon

"We know there is great, progressive legislation but the issue here is timely," Mr Dickson said.

"We've gone through the process, we've done everything appropriately, but it gets down to life and death.

"Our job as politicians is to care for the people we represent, and I think it's high bloody time we started doing that again."

Earlier this week, One Nation senator Pauline Hanson joined the fray, calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull himself to grant amnesty for patients reliant on the drug.

"I'm calling for some compassion," she said.

"What's wrong with giving amnesty to use the medication now instead of two months down the track when it could be too late for these kids.

"If it were my child, I'd be giving it to them illegally. I'd be doing anything I could do get it to them."

The Prime Minister is yet to respond publicly to the calls, but the Queensland Premier's office said there was no amnesty or compassionate use scheme in place.

A spokesperson said pathways were available for patients to access medicinal marijuana through the legal channels, and declined to comment further.

Government representatives from the health, police and attorney-general's departments referenced Queensland Health's website in their reluctance to discuss amnesty.

The website justifies the state's approach as wanting to keep money out of the illegal or black-market marijuana industry, maintain contact with the medical industry and ensure product quality.

This is all well and good in theory, Ms Hallam's lawyer Heather Stokes said, but patients who were using the Adelaide woman's medicine had been doing so for almost two years, confident of the regularity of supply and consistency in product.

Now, they don't have that same comfort.

"Everybody seems to forget when they do these things, there's nothing to be cheerful about because there's kids and adults who will suffer," she said.

"In desperation they'll have to go out to darker and less savoury places to access (medicinal marijuana) and pay for it.

"And I can't see that that's a good thing."

Topics:  amnesty black market marijuana legalisation medical marijuana terminally ill


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