Australian state to try out medical marijuana

Associated Press
Updated: Tue. May. 20 2003 11:41 PM E

SYDNEY, Australia — Following the lead of Canada and the Netherlands, Australia's most populous state has decided to allow the medicinal use of marijuana for pain relief in a four-year trial, authorities said Tuesday.

New South Wales state Premier Bob Carr said the trial was aimed at alleviating the chronic suffering of people with severe pain.

"This is a compassionate scheme," he told the state legislature in the capital, Sydney. "It's directed at people like the 62-year-old man with bowel cancer ... (who) uses cannabis to relieve pain and to beat the nausea that stops him from eating."

Carr said the trial, believed to be the first in Australia, will include strict safeguards. Legislation clearing the way for the experiment is expected to pass later this year.

Under the proposal, patients would be able to gain access to the drug through a new Office of Medicinal Cannabis within the New South Wales Health Department.

"Patients must be able to show that conventional treatment will not relieve their suffering," Carr said.

"We're talking about people suffering wasting due to cancer and HIV/AIDS, nausea from chemotherapy, severe or chronic pain, muscle spasticity due to Multiple Sclerosis and spinal cord injuries," he added.

People convicted of an illicit drug offence, on parole, under 18 years of age, or pregnant will not be able to register as a user, Carr said.

Countries including the Netherlands and Canada have laws sanctioning the medicinal use of marijuana.

Eight U.S. states also have taken steps toward permitting the medicinal use of the drug. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has ruled there is no exception in federal law for people to use marijuana, so those living in states with tolerant laws could face arrest if they do.

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