The medical marijuana debate


A revolution is underway in the decriminalisation of medical marijuana. In September, the NSW Government announced a clinical trial of the medical use of marijuana. A working group is due to report back before the end of the year on issues such as supply and distribution. The end point would be a change in police guidelines to prevent prosecution for possession of small amounts of marijuana on a register of terminally ill patients.[1]



In the latest news, the Premier announced that he is considering  trialing medical marijuana for children, including those with paediatric epilepsy, chemotherapy-induced nausea, as well as the State growing its own. This could lead to decriminalisation in the sense of police guidelines for police to decline to prosecute patients with legitimate medical need.[2]

Issues which still need to be sorted out include what form of marijuana would be decriminalised and whether there would be any limits on the amount of THC – the psychoactive component in marijuana – permitted in a medical dose.

Current forms available overseas include smokable marijuana, pills, skin cream and baked goods. Currently, two oral canniboid products are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration: dronabinol and nabilone.


The Federal Government is said to be behind the move to decriminalize medical marijuana.

The Prime Minister wrote a letter in August to Alan Jone, stating: “I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates”.

A cross-party bill supported by Senator Ian Macdonald and Warren Entsch was due to be tabled last week.[3]


Medical marijuana is legal in countries including Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

Proposed uses

Medical marijuana is said to be able to treat cancer, dementia, diabetes, epilepsy, glaucoma, Tourette syndrome.

The partial decriminalisation model

NSW currently has had a “cannabis caution” system in place since 2000. It gives police officers the discretion to issue adults caught with a small amount of cannabis a caution rather than charging them with possession. Offenders can receive up to two cautions before they must attend mandatory drug counseling. A person cannot receive a third caution. Those with drug or violent criminal histories are ineligible to be cautioned, as are those caught with a traffickable quantity of cannabis.


Where a drug has medical benefits, it should not be withheld from those who need it. Many drugs are decriminalised for health purposes, abuse of which can be harmful to the user. This is why drug distribution is controlled by medical prescriptions. There is no logical reason why medical marijuana could not fall into the same category. It looks like Australia is heading in this direction. Decriminalisation of marijuana for recreational possession is still an important and valid policy.




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