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Rich Lister Barry Lambert may run for Senate to push for cannabis legalisation

Barry Lambert has backed medicinal cannabis which his family has used to treat his granddaughter, Katelyn. James Brickwood

Millionaire investor and philanthropist Barry Lambert plans to step away from all of his business commitments and may make a run for the Senate, as he ramps up his fight for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia.

Speaking to The Australian Financial Review, Mr Lambert said that while he never dreamt of becoming a "crime fighter" he was now "relishing the fight".

"I would run for Senate on the basis that medicinal cannabis needs to be legal. I wouldn't be aligned to any party, I'd run as an independent. I've got a huge following in the accounting profession, I'd be surprised if I couldn't win a Senate seat," he said.

Federal and state governments have announced plans to legalise the cultivation and sale of cannabis for approved medicinal use and several medicinal cannabis firms have listed on the ASX but in practice it remains virtually impossible for sufferers to buy it legally.

The federal government issued a first cultivation licence last month to a firm called Cann Group but it has not said who Cann Group will be allowed to sell to. Moreover, states have yet to define which diseases the cannabis can legally be used to treat. The industry says it should be used for epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, treatment of chronic pain and nausea in people undergoing cancer treatment.

Mr Lambert is well-known in the financial services industry after building accounting and financial planning business Count Financial which he sold to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for $373 million in 2011. The sale earned him a spot on the BRW Rich List, where he was named the 156th wealthiest Australian. He is now ranked 167th on the list with estimated wealth of $389 million.

He is currently chairman of Countplus Ltd and the Count Charitable Foundation which makes donations of $800,000 per year.

In the time since he sold Count, Mr Lambert has become something of an opportunistic investor, putting money into tech-focused businesses including robo adviser Ignition Wealth, loan bidding platform LoanDolphin and self- managed superannuation fund platform Class Super.

His battle for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis is personal. His granddaughter Katelyn suffers from a rare condition known as Dravet Syndrome which leads to severe epilepsy and permanent brain damage from the seizures.

She has found relief from an oil that is an extract of cannabis, a substance prohibited under the NSW Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act of 1985 and Mr Lambert is determined to see Australians suffering from diseases like cancer and arthritis, be able to legally access it.

In March this year, Mr Lambert's son Michael Lambert (and Katelyn's father) appeared in court to answer charges of cultivation and possession of cannabis, which he was growing to make oil containing an extract known as Cannabidiol (CBD) that he says suppresses his daughter's seizures.

Barry Lambert said he would be meeting with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard in coming weeks to see what progress can be made with regard to legal changes, before he makes any formal plans for his Senate tilt.

In February, the federal government indicated that it may loosen importation laws for medicinal marijuana.

Mr Lambert has also been a keen financial backer of the medical cannabis movement, which is worth around $US576 million ($761 million) in the United States.

At the end of last year Mr Lambert and his wife Joy donated $US3 million to Thomas Jefferson University to support its Center for Medical Cannabis Education and Research. In recognition of this commitment, the centre will be renamed The Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp.

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