Australia Fights for Medical Cannabis: Will Full Legalization Soon Follow?

Published on November 12, 2015 · Last updated July 28, 2020

The support for legalizing medical cannabis in Australia has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent months, and authorities are beginning to take notice. What happened Down Under to inspire a chain reaction of progress so quickly? Let's take a look at the catalysts that led to such rapid policy change. 

A Mother Takes Action

It all began with a mother fighting for her son. Lucy Haslam was a retired nurse, married to a longtime police officer in Tamworth, New South Wales. She and her husband considered themselves ordinary, law-abiding citizens until the day their son, Daniel, was diagnosed with bowel cancer at age 20.

Watching her son suffer endlessly due to nausea, pain, and vomiting caused by chemotherapy was too much to bear. After three years of painful treatment, a fellow cancer patient suggested they try cannabis. With that, the wheels were set in motion to change the course of Australian history.

Daniel Haslam felt an immediate improvement – he gained an appetite and was able to combat the painful nausea and vomiting that had plagued him throughout the ongoing treatment. Lucy Haslam watched his turnaround and vowed to fight for his right to use medicinal marijuana after they were forced to access cannabis from the black market. She started a petition to legalize marijuana for medicinal use that eventually gained nearly 250,000 signatures, as well as international attention.

Sadly, Daniel Haslam lost his battle with cancer in February of this year, but his mother refused to back down, and her story has inspired the New South Wales government to rethink their policy on cannabis use for medicinal reasons. Mrs. Haslam’s vision and goal remains the same. If anything, she's even more dedicated to changing Australian cannabis policy as a last promise and tribute to Dan’s memory:

“The uncomplicated fact is that cannabis improves the lives of thousands of very sick and suffering Australians. This is significant because ‘approved’ medications often fail or are commonly responsible for causing side effects which render them intolerable for the individual patient.”

Trailblazers in New South Wales

It would appear that Australia, by and large, agrees with Mrs. Haslam. According to a recent study by Roy Morgan Research, 91 percent of Australians support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, with only 7 percent in opposition.

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New South Wales will be the first Australian state to conduct medical cannabis clinical trials, but the milestone has been followed closely by other Australian heads of state. NSW Premier Mike Baird said he was persuaded to consider medical marijuana trials after meeting with the Haslam family. He later gave the go-ahead for investigative measures into the effectiveness of cannabis as medicine, including a $9 million grant for the efforts.

The state of Victoria also has plans to embark on a state-based cannabis cultivation trial, after a report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission recommended allowing the use of medicinal cannabis, particularly in cases of “exceptional circumstances of medical need.” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews of the Labor Party made an election pledge to legalize medical marijuana and, despite his previous opposition to legalization measures, he has since made it clear that he has no regrets about the decision:

"They're going to get legally for the first time the medicine that they need to transform their lives, and indeed to save their lives. The time has come for us to stop finding reasons not to do this. There will be a cost involved, there's no doubt about that. It's not about dollars and cents really, this is about saving lives."

Not to be left out, Queensland followed the lead of New South Wales and Victoria, decriminalizing cannabis for medical use earlier this year after previously playing the “wait-and-see” game on the topic of marijuana. Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick said that they will be working with New South Wales during the clinical trials to make sure that that cannabis is both effective and safe for children to use.

Allowing Local Cannabis Cultivation

Australia's journey to legalize came to a head earlier this month when the Australian government, no longer able to ignore the overwhelming public support for medical marijuana, announced plans to allow cannabis to be grown legally for medical and research purposes. The government is planning to amend the Narcotics Drugs Act of 1967 to allow cannabis to be cultivated locally. In doing so, they will be carefully navigating around their role as signatory on the United Nations Treaty to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, which concerns the control and production of raw materials for narcotic drugs (including cannabis).

This law also regulates the importing of cannabis for clinical use, and, as international sources may be very limited, this is why it’s crucial that Australia cultivates its own domestic resources to supply the trials. New South Wales' clinical trials are estimated to begin in early 2016, with Premier Mike Baird’s blessing and Australians everywhere watching.

In the meantime, Lucy Haslam is watching Australian opinion shift as her son’s wish comes to fruition. If you’ve ever wondered if one person can change the world, look no further. Every time you stand up for what you believe in and fight for a cause, remember:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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