Patients who require cannabis for medical reasons have always been at the forefront of the cannabis reform movement and things are no different in Australia. There are two patient groups, in particular, that have focused the attention of Australian lawmakers and led to dramatic reforms.

Dan and Lucy Haslam

United in Compassion (UIC) was formed by Lucy Haslam and her son Dan. Lucy Haslam never expected to become a cannabis activist but when Dan became ill with colon cancer and found that cannabis helped him tolerate chemotherapy everything in Lucy’s life changed.  UIC became the leading association for the medical cannabis issue in Australia, campaigning tirelessly and bringing about a major shift in Australia law. Dan died in February 2015 and just one year later the Australian parliament voted to remove federal prohibitions against the medical use of cannabis. Lawmakers at the time spoke of Lucy’s devotion and the need to provide compassion to the seriously ill.  Lucy thought her work was done and felt she had fulfilled her promise to her dying son but today she says Australia “is the laughing stock of the world” when it comes to patient access.

The retired nurse is furious that fewer than 2,000 Australians have been able to access the therapeutic plant in two years and she is not shy about sharing her thoughts. At CannaTech Sydney in October 2018, Haslam spoke to several hundred attendees, calling on the surging cannabis industry to support and aggressively lobby for medical cannabis. 

Alice with Carol Ireland at CannaTech Sydney, October 2018.

Carol Ireland, executive director of Epilepsy Action Australia, shares much of Lucy’s frustration. EAA is the country’s largest epilepsy association and Ireland will freely admit that she never anticipated becoming a cannabis activist. “My job led me to this path,” she says, “But I am not unhappy about that.”  Nurses working for the EAA found themselves in a difficult position. Patients and families routinely asked about using cannabis to treat epilepsy, especially after the story of Charlotte Figi was highlighted in the 2013 CNN documentary,”Weed.”  But laws in Australia prevented the nurses from offering any advice about an illegal medicine. Indeed, nurses were expected to report “illegal” activity involving children. So Ireland stepped in, speaking to families when her nurses could not.

Ireland’s group, with backing from MGC Pharmaceuticals, has launched an excellent new website called Cannabis 4 Epilepsy which is dedicated to educating about cannabis and epilepsy. 

Australia is poised to “breakout” of its tentative and overly regulated first attempts at medical cannabis legalization.  The promise is there for a robust program of medical access and it is advocates like Haslam and Ireland who will keep the regulators moving ahead in a positive way. ❖

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