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Australian legalization candidate pushes for cannabis reform

A cannabis legalization campaigner in Australia says the country needs full legalization and homegrow allowances so patients don’t have to rely on expensive imports from countries like Canada. 

Michael Balderstone from Australia’s Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party, was running in a regional by-election on Saturday, July 4 as a protest vote to bring attention to what he says are problems with the country’s medical cannabis program. 

Although Balderstone says he did not expect to win, he was using the election and his campaign to draw attention to the HEMP organization’s criticisms of Australia’s strict and expensive medical cannabis program, that relies heavily on imports from medical producers in countries like Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Israel.

Australia’s Office of Drug Control authority lists thirty-one different domestic producers of cannabis and twenty-six approved importers, although it also says that not all those licenced to manufacture are included in this list. Those with roots in Canada include Canopy Growth, Cronos, MediPharm Labs, Medreleaf, and Tilray.

“Why can’t we all grow a couple of plants like in Canberra which is surrounded by this electorate?”, asked the candidate at the beginning of his campaign. “If we were allowed home-grown for personal use across Australia, we could save billions in health care and policing costs. We could be saving money instead of wasting it.”

He also says allowing Australians to grow their own would be cheaper.

“A vote for cannabis is a protest vote, to review the laws,” Balderstone said on Saturday from a van circling a polling station. “It’s time we did this, we all know that. Don’t let the government’s nonsense get to you. (It’s) almost impossible to get and all imported and twice the price, if not more, than the black market. That’s the legal medical cannabis they’re talking about. We should be allowed to grow our own. The problem is no one makes a profit then.”

Australia legalized medical cannabis in 2016, but access to cannabis products has remained limited, and relies on imports from other countries. Cannabis products can only be accessed through the country’s Special Access Scheme, by an Authorised Prescriber or for use in a Clinical Trial, unless registered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG)

(It’s) almost impossible to get and all imported and twice the price, if not more, than the black market. That’s the legal medical cannabis they’re talking about. We should be allowed to grow our own. The problem is no one makes a profit then.”

Michael Balderstone from Australia’s Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party

As of June 30 of this year, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved over 50,000 Special Access Scheme (SAS) Category B applications for unapproved medicinal cannabis products. The TGA says they have approved SAS applications including chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, refractory paediatric epilepsy, palliative care indications, cancer pain, neuropathic pain, spasticity from neurological conditions, anorexia and wasting associated with chronic illness (such as cancer).

“When I went down that [medical] channel, what I found was that there were a lot of hoops I had to jump through, a lot of paperwork, and a lot of people who had to be involved,” one medical user told Australia’s ABC news. 

“And even then if I was deemed worthy of the CBD oil, I was going to be sent this particular oil every six weeks. But the illegal CBD oil I got straight away, it was very easy to access and cost effective. So I opted to stay using the illegal source.”