NEWSREADER: The Federal Opposition says it will support any bid to help legalise the medicinal use of cannabis.
In a statement released this evening, Labor said it will ensure patients suffering from a terminal or other serious illness will be allowed access to safe, reliable and legal medicinal cannabis if it gets into power.
Doctors say the drug could be used to ease the pain of patients undergoing chemotherapy, as well as those living with multiple sclerosis.
Joining me from Alice Springs is Stephen Jones, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Health. You are confirming a change in Labor policy this evening?
JONES: That's right, today Labor announced that a Shorten Labor Government would put in place a truly national scheme to make medicinal cannabis available and it shouldn't be a matter of whether you live in NSW or Victoria or somewhere else in Australia, if you're suffering from a terminal illness, or if your child has drug-resistant epilepsy, suffering from life-threatening fits, then you should have available to you, through medical advice and appropriate channels, medicinal cannabis.
NEWSREADER: Why are you announcing it now, and why aren't you prepared to leave this up to the states which administer health?
JONES: With NSW and Victoria acting, it’s no longer tenable for the Commonwealth to leave this alone. We have responsibility for therapeutic goods in this country, but we’ve got a couple of problems. In NSW and Victoria when the schemes are introduced, it will be legal to possess medicinal cannabis and legal for you to use medicinal cannabis for a prescribed purpose, but it's not legal for to you grow it, not legal for you to buy it, and not legal for you to sell it, meaning you've got no lawful means of gaining access to a quality product. That's where the Commonwealth has to come in. We need to put in place, by working with the states and territories, uniform criminal laws to exempt people from the fear of prosecution if they've got legitimate access to medicinal cannabis for an approved purpose, but we also need to sort out supply and only the Commonwealth can do that.
NEWSREADER: But surely this is a state issue, because you talk about equity of access, but patients are often left at the mercy of the state in which they live. The states are able to deal with this?
JONES: If only it was as simple as that, but under our Constitution and under the treaty arrangements we have with a range of other countries, the Commonwealth has significant responsibilities. For example, if the Victorian Government wants to go ahead with its plans to grow medicinal cannabis to provide to its citizens as a part of the scheme that it announced, it has to get a licensing arrangement from the Commonwealth Government which begs the question why should we just put that arrangement in place for Victoria? Why shouldn't we have that arrangement all other states around the country? Because as I said, it shouldn't be an accident of what State you live in as to whether you can get access to pain-relieving or in some instances life-saving medicine.
NEWSREADER: How much do you expect that this policy will cost to implement?
JONES: Look, there will be a cost associated with it, but we think, as a result of the licensing arrangements that we've put in place that most of the cost would be borne by licensing arrangements and a fee-for-service arrangement, so I don't expect this to have any significant cost to the Commonwealth over the Forward Estimates.
NEWSREADER: Finally, you did mention children earlier. Just confirming that Labor would support extending this policy to children with a terminal or serious illness?
JONES: Well, if you have a look at what was announced by Dan Andrews last week in Victoria, he said that as a priority, he wanted to ensure that there was a scheme available for children who were suffering from a form of epilepsy which has with it life-threatening seizures that are resistant to drugs, the existing drugs that, and where existing evidence shows that they are responsive to medicinal cannabis. We want to ensure that they have a safe, reliable, consistent and legal access to medicinal cannabis, not just in Victoria, but right around the country.
NEWSREADER: Stephen Jones, thanks for speaking with us tonight.
JONES: Great to be with you.