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Laura is prescribed cannabis, but she still relies on the black market

Laura Bryant was full of hope when she was finally approved for access to medicinal cannabis.

Cannabis oil was the only treatment that relieved her debilitating pain but for many years she was forced to buy it on the black market.

Medicinal cannabis user Laura Bryant.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Despite her approval, she has found it impossible to find a doctor to prescribe it to her after recently moving back to Canberra.

Tight federal and local restrictions mean GPs usually cannot prescribe the drug and there are less than a handful of local specialists authorised to prescribe it.

Her supply of cannabis oil she received legally while living in Sydney ran out two days ago and she is now back to using black market cannabis.

She has called every doctor and clinic in Canberra she could think of but no one is able to help.

The Legislative Assembly is currently debating Labor's bill that would see possession of small amounts - up to 50 grams - of cannabis legalised.

The Greens want to add amendments to the bill that would see people who use black market cannabis medicinally, but not through a prescription, allowed to possess a larger quantity legally.

People would have to be able to show they had a prescribed medical condition.

Greens spokesperson for drug law reform Shane Rattenbury said the changes were needed because of the difficulties in accessing ACT's medicinal cannabis scheme.

He also wants to see changes to federal laws which restrict patients' access to the scheme.

Mr Rattenbury said the multiple layers of approval through both ACT Health and the TGA and difficulties finding an authorised doctor meant many patients simply gave up.

“That’s why we’ll be seeking to increase the allowable amount for possession for people who use cannabis medicinally to recognise that people with a medical need may need to stockpile larger quantities than recreational users and the current avenues for accessing it under prescription are overly restrictive," he said.

“We’re also proposing the establishment of an independent cannabis advisory council to provide expertise to government on new issues that are likely to emerge as these changes come into effect."

Laura, who has auto immune inflammatory arthritis and endometritis, welcomed the proposed changes.

But she ultimately wants to be able to take regulated cannabis oil, which she knows works for her and comes in controlled doses.

"It's distressing, I have this medication that helps me live my life by myself, but when it's taken away I lose all independence. My mental health then starts to deteriorate," she said.

Laura's mother Bernadette said governments needed to treat medicinal cannabis like any other medicine that is prescribed.

"For Laura, it is the difference between being able to function and not function," she said.

"The medication was approved and yet there are still these enormous hurdles that need to be negotiated."

Canberra doctor and medicinal cannabis advocate David Caldicott said one of the biggest issues with medicinal cannabis in Australia was that GPs were usually not allowed to prescribe the drug.

In small jurisdictions like Canberra, where there are fewer specialists, the difficulties accessing medicinal cannabis were exacerbated.

But he had some reservations about conflating black market cannabis with medicinal cannabis, as was proposed by the ACT Greens.

He wants to see a focus on better access to regulated medicinal cannabis instead.

"I can understand the motivation behind it and I have some sympathy for that motivation, but it's a consequence of wider and broader failings with the scheme," Dr Caldicott said.

"There are implications for taking a sideways step to bypass the medicinal cannabis issue.

"I'm of the belief medicinal cannabis is only a product produced under tightly regulated conditions.

"To conflate the argument and debates about recreation and medical cannabis, I think you go into difficult territory." Originally published here: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/laura-is-prescribed-cannabis-but-she-still-relies-on-the-black-market-20190220-p50z31.html

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