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It's happened. On Tuesday, the office of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the Australian state will implement a legal framework around legal medicinal cannabis.
"I've seen first-hand how medicinal cannabis can change people's lives," said Premier Andrews in the statement. "This landmark reform means Victorian families will no longer have to decide between breaking the law and watching their child suffer."
Statewide sales are set to commence by 2017, with children suffering severe epilepsy granted priority access. The specific state legislation is yet to be written, and permission has not been granted by the federal government.
This has been a long time coming. In 1926, the Commonwealth Government first banned the importation, production, and sale of cannabis, followed by Victoria in 1927. Since then sporadic calls for decriminalization have fallen on deaf ears. South Australia decriminalized low-level marijuana offenses in 1987, followed by the Australian Capital Territory in 1993. Victoria will be the first state to allow the manufacture and sale products containing THC in a similar process to the distribution of methadone.
This move began life as a Labor election promise, resulting in the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) endorsing the legalization of medical weed in a report released August 31. Tasked with examining the effectiveness of all sort of laws, the VLRC advised that although remedial claims around marijuana can be exaggerated, the plant "has therapeutic potential."
The report went on to list 42 recommendations on how to best distribute the drug, with a total of 40 to be adopted by the government. These include restricting sales exclusively to people suffering multiple sclerosis; chronic pain from cancer, HIV, or AIDS (or the treatment thereof); or seizures resulting from epilepsy. The report also emphasized that pot will only be grown by vetted farmers under a strict licensing system, much in the same way opium poppies are grown in Tasmania.
The licensing and regulation of growers will fall to the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, with a new office to be formed beneath their umbrella.
"Victoria is leading the way on legalizing medicinal cannabis because we know the difference it can make to a patient's quality of life," Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy said in a statement. "We know the evidence is growing in support of it as a treatment option in exceptional circumstances."
Both the premier and Hennessy have been quick to highlight the health dangers of marijuana and affirm that Victoria won't be legalizing recreational use.
The next major hurdle to be cleared will be a green light from the federal government. After that a number of state legislative changes will be required, including a clause that will allow people to drive with small quantities of THC in their systems. Other laws that will need to change include the Narcotic Drugs Act, the Therapeutic Goods Act, as well as various quarantine and customs laws.
All this will all cost quite large sums of public money, but with most polls showing that a majority of Australians support medical marijuana, Premier Andrews is understandably happy to fork out. As he said, "there will be a cost involved, there is not doubt about that. It is not about dollars and cents, it is about saving lives."
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