Doctor Mary Jane

In May this year a pair of self-described “medical marijuana suppliers” were arrested and charged with serious trafficking offenses, after police raided their Carrum Downs home and found more than five kilograms of Marijuana and derivative products.

Matthew and Elizabeth Pallett have openly provided about 80 regular clients, who suffer from a variety of medical conditions, including chronic pain, cancer and epilepsy with cannabis-based tinctures, chocolates and butters.

“Many of those we are helping are fibromyalgia patients [sufferers of chronic pain] for whom the medical industry has no help. But a teaspoon of our lemon and mango butter morning and night gives them almost total pain relief,” he said.

But now patients requiring medical marijuana to manage their illnesses, will no longer be breaking the law by purchasing, carrying or consuming cannabis, with Victoria set to become the first Australian state to legalise medical marijuana.

If things go according to plan, by early 2017 the Victorian government will be growing, distributing and regulating the use of the drug.

The first beneficiaries of the new policy will be about 450 children suffering from severe epilepsy, before eventually including a range of adults who suffer extreme pain from diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS , or multiple sclerosis.

The state government will establish a pharmacy network and assign specialists to prescribe medical cannabis to patients, cutting out the need for illegal distributors like the Pallett’s.

The implementation of a medical marijuana scheme has been a hot topic in the media for the past few years, with advocates stridently pushing for policy change.

The movement gained much support in Australia after many U.S states legalised use of the drug for medical purposes.

Drug policy is a contentious and highly divisive topic and critics of the new scheme are concerned that it will have adverse affects. But many of the concerns are unfounded.

There are those that claim it is highly addictive, yet the most authoritative review on the addictiveness of a drug, compares the physical dependency of certain drugs on a scale of 0–3. Heroin for example is a 3, tobacco and benzodiazapenes are a 1.8, alcohol is 1.6, where as marijuana is far lower at 0.8.

There are also concerns that it may be a gateway drug, but this is hard to test and it seems more likely that users will be more likely to experiment with alternative substances if they are easily available off the same supplier.

The medicinal effects of cannabis have long been documented and prior to prohibition many of the common medicines contained cannabinoid extracts.

The first documented use of the drug for medical purposes was as early as 2737 BC, by Chinese emporer Shen Nung. The focus was on its powers as a medication for rheumatism, gout, malaria, and strangely enough, absent-mindedness.

It was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942 and was prescribed for various conditions including labor pains, nausea, and rheumatism.

However a campaign conducted in the 1930s by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics sought to portray marijuana as a powerful, addicting substance that would lead users into narcotics addiction.

In Australia cannabis importation and use was prohibited by federal legislation in 1926, following the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and other drugs. The states adopted a similiar approach in the following years.

But in 2014, a provision in the U.S governments federal spending measure ended the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana, signalling a major shift in drug policy.

To date 23 U.S states have legalised medical marijuana and the trend looks like continuing in favour of legalisation.

Although empirically tested clinical trials have not conclusively proved many of the purported benefits of medical marijuana, there are numerous testimonies in the U.S of patients experiencing improved symptoms and great relief from pain through the use of the drug.

The Food and Drug Administration of America has not yet approved the marijuana plant as medicine. However study of the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids have proven to increase appetite and reduce nausea and have led to two FDA approved medications.

It’s widely accepted that THC, an active ingredient in cannabis, can decrease pain, inflammation (swelling and redness), and muscle control problems. The FDA requires carefully conducted studies of thousands of subjects to determine the benefits and risks of possible medications before approving anything as a medicine. To date researchers have not conducted enough large-scale trials to conclusively prove the benefits of it.

And unlike many over the counter medications, it is virtually impossible to lethally overdose on cannabis and the fact that it cannot be injected means it is not a rsk for spreading blood-born illnesses.

But conversely there are risks associated with heavy use of the drug, and longditudinal studies in Australia and New Zealand show significant social, behavioural, educational and mental problems with frequent use of cannabis by young people (aged 15–25 years.)

However the illegality of the drug has done little to dissuade users, with Australia leading the world in usage of the drug per capita. It is easily the most popular drug in Australia, in 2009 15 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 64 used cannabis in that year alone, two billion more than any other illicit drug.

Here’s how our spending on illicit substances looked in 2013 in billions.

In total, we were spending 7.1 billion dollars on illicit drugs, 3.8 billion of which was spent on cannabis. The illicit drug industry garners a huge market in Australia, to put it in context here’s how it compares some other major industries in Australia.

With illicit drugs so prevalent in Australia, and with many known and reported benefits of marijuana use for medical conditions, it seems logical that the government should allow users to treat their conditions with cannabis, given that it in some circumstances it is the only thing that gives them respite from chronic pain.

It will give freedom of mind to patients who currently use the drug illegally, and as the above graphs demonstrate it would be an industry that create significant revenue for the government.

Despite medical marijuana still being in clinical trials, Premier Daniel Andrews called the legislation a “policy no brainer”, after hearing countless stories about the relief medical marijuana can bring.

Premier Andrews said that for hundreds of parents, legalising the product means they will never again be forced to break the law and potentially face criminal sanctions, simply for trying to improve their child’s quality of life.

Should the campaign be successful in Victoria it’s likely other states will follow suit.