Harsher Penalties Could Really Hurt SA Medical Cannabis Patients

Cannabis in South Australia
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The South Australian Government wants to quadruple penalties for marijuana possession, a move that could seriously impact users of medical cannabis.

South Australia decriminalised possession of small amounts of marijuana decades ago. However, Attorney General Vickie Chapman says the government is seeking to bring cannabis penalties into line with other drugs.

South Australia arguably has much larger drug problems than cannabis – such as its ice epidemic. But the whole debate over recreational cannabis aside, South Australia’s medical cannabis users – many of whom would be medicating outside the law – need to be considered in any changes.

What discretionary powers police will continue to have if these new penalties and the government’s broader “war on drugs” actions are implemented isn’t clear. But for the state’s medical cannabis users, this news is an added stress they simply don’t need.

While selected medical practitioners in South Australia can legally prescribe medicinal cannabis products with relevant State and Commonwealth approval, the process is onerous and the products expensive; forcing some patients to source medicines via illicit channels.

Even the supply of non-intoxicating unregistered Schedule 4 cannabidiol medicines (there are no registered products) requires a prescription from a medical practitioner and Commonwealth approval or notification.

While possession is currently decriminalised for small amounts, South Australia has not been particularly kind to those who supply cannabis oil to patients – even before the change in government earlier this year.

In 2017, Adelaide’s Jenny Hallam’s home was raided by South Australian Police, interrupting supply of medicines to those she was assisting. Jenny Hallam pleaded not guilty in Adelaide Magistrates Court to possession and manufacturing charges related to cannabis in January this year. If convicted, even under current penalties, she could serve a maximum sentence of 7 years.

Commenting on the news of the government’s push, Greens MLC Tammy Franks said prohibition does not work when it comes to drugs. Ms. Franks was a driving force behind legislation passing to enable the cultivation of industrial hemp in South Australia. While cannabidiol can be extracted from industrial hemp, that currently isn’t covered under the legislation.

Prior to the legislation passing, SA was the last state in Australian where cultivating hemp was illegal.