In Queensland cannabis possession, trafficking, supply and production are criminal offences with maximum penalties ranging between 15 and 25 years imprisonment. Cannabis use in Queensland remains higher than the average of other Australian states and is the largest illegal drug market according to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
In February this year the federal parliament introduced new laws legalising cultivation of cannabis and ‘cannabinoids’ for medicinal use in Australia. Under this new law a licensing scheme enables approved bodies to cultivate and manufacture cannabis products.
Patients are not able to access medical cannabis products cultivated under the Commonwealth law until states and territories have enacted complementary legislation legalising its use. In Queensland a person with an illness who may potentially be eligible to utilise medical cannabis and is charged and has pleaded guilty to an offence will have to make submissions to a Judge or Magistrate in mitigation of their sentence.
The Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) sub-section 9(2) states a Judge or Magistrate must have regard to the presence of any aggravating or mitigating factor concerning the offender. The reason a person uses cannabis to relieve the symptoms of illness or pain is a factor the court must take into consideration when determining the sentence to be imposed on a person charged. Any submission to the Court regarding medical needs such as pain and illness would need to be supported by evidence.
Queensland has taken steps towards legalising use of cannabis for medical purposes with the draft Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016 being released for public comment. If the current bill was introduced into law medical practitioners would have the ability to discuss treatment options with a patient and obtain their consent to receiving medical cannabis treatment.
A medical practitioner would need to apply to the chief executive of Queensland Health for approval to use medicinal cannabis. The chief executive may seek further information or ask for advice from an panel of expert advisors to aid in determining the application. Once approved a patient would be prescribed and can obtain medical cannabis from an approved pharmacist.
A joint Australian and US study found decriminalisation of possession of cannabis had little impact on the pattern of drug use and the evidence suggests legalising medicinal cannabis use will not result in higher levels of crime. Legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes will not be a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to the drug as the current proposed law would see tight regulations on its distribution by medical practitioners and pharmacists and use by patients.