On 19 December 2014 and pursuant to section 5(1)(a) of the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000, the Victorian Attorney-General, the Hon. Martin Pakula MP, referred to the Commission for review and report options for changes to the law to allow people to be treated with medicinal cannabis in exceptional circumstances. The reference was not in relation to legalisation of cannabis generally, nor in relation to legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes generally; but rather, for treatment with medicinal cannabis in exceptional circumstances. Thus this report addresses as a central issue the proper definition of what should constitute exceptional circumstances.
In its review the Commission heard many compelling stories of personal suffering, and also received submissions emphasising the presently limited proven scientific knowledge about the potential and risks of medicinal cannabis. The report is driven both by personal compassion and by medical responsibility.
This report is necessarily a complex one. Because cannabis is a prohibited drug in Victoria, any legalisation of it, including for compelling personal medical circumstances, must take into account the complex of legal, administrative, medical and health considerations applicable within Victoria and also nationally and internationally. Where practicable, the Commission has recommended the use of, or adaptation of, existing administrative structures, systems and protocols.
The options reviewed in the report demonstrate that, for effective and sustainable reform to take place, there needs to be collaboration between the Victorian and Commonwealth governments. At the time of writing, the introduction of Commonwealth medicinal cannabis legislation appears possible. Any such action would affect the options open to Victoria. Should this occur, I trust that the discussion in this report will provide helpful guidance in addressing the issues that would arise under any national medicinal cannabis scheme.
I acknowledge and warmly thank everyone who contributed to the review by making submissions and participating in public consultations. The Commission drew upon the expertise of many clinical and regulatory experts who generously gave their time and ideas at advisory committee meetings and private consultations. Likewise, some two hundred members of the public attended meetings that the Commission held in Melbourne and across Victoria to discuss the issues encompassed by the review. I attended a number of these consultations and was moved by the stories I heard.
Although I was closely involved at all stages, the review was led by Dr Ian Freckelton QC, who was appointed Commissioner for this purpose. I thank him for the intellectual rigour and tireless dedication he brought to the task.
I would also like to thank my fellow Commissioners, all of whom worked on this reference, for their contribution and expertise.
Finally, I am grateful for the hard work of the research team, led by Lindy Smith and supported by research and policy officers Michael Adams and Sharyn Broomhead and research and executive associate Claire Leyden-Duval.
I commend the report to you.
The Hon. P. D. Cummins AM
Victorian Law Reform Commission