Another bitter dispute about medical marijuana erupted in parliament late on Thursday, with Labor and the Greens pitted against the government and One Nation over a plan to reduce barriers to importing cannabis into Australia.
Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, introduced a motion in the Senate on Thursday afternoon which would have dropped barriers to the importation of cannabis into Australia for terminally ill patients. Medical cannabis is currently very difficult to obtain in Australia, because while doctors can prescribe it for patients, the country does not have a readily available official supply.
Di Natale told the Senate his motion would make "two simple changes to the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Narcotic Drugs) Regulation 2016 to restore the rights of terminally ill patients to access medicinal cannabis products through category A of the TGA's special access scheme and through personal importation".
He said it would have helped bypass barriers for the terminally ill to access medical cannabis.
"We have the coalition who says they want to cut red tape. Well, this is red tape they should be prepared to get the chainsaw out for and rip to shreds. This red tape is stopping a medication that relieves suffering getting into the hands those who need it," Di Natale said.
The Greens and Labor voted one way, while the Coalition, One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team and independent senators Cory Bernardi and Lucy Gichuhi voted the other. The result? A 32-32 tie, which meant Di Natale's motion to drop the barriers was defeated.
Di Natale was livid at the result, especially considering One Nation has recently been spruiking its support for medical cannabis -- indeed, its sole current member of Queensland parliament, Steve Dickson, defected to Pauline Hanson's party from the Liberal Nationals due to his frustration at a lack of action on cannabis and a hope that joining with One Nation could move things along.
One Nation fiercely shot back at Di Natale, accusing the Greens of "fibs". Hanson called Di Natale's motion "cynical".
"The irresponsible legislation proposed by the Greens would have opened the floodgates and allowed massive unregulated, access to clinically unproven treatments," she said on Facebook.
"Imagine the opportunistic scammers who would have been waiting online to supply desperate Australian families with their watered down cocktail of hope if this change went through."
However, later on Friday, Dickson himself sat down for a Facebook Live video where he said the Greens rushed the bill into parliament without fully explaining its consequences. He said the Greens motion was brought on "at the last minute" and accused the party of "sneaky" tactics.
"Senator Hanson and other members of parliament were not briefed on what was being put forward in that motion, and hastily the federal government got the TGA to give Senator Hanson a brief," he said.
"When you just sneakily throw up a motion and expect everybody to just say 'I'm sure that's OK', it doesn't work like that... can you imagine if we just let anything and everything come into this country?"
"We know there's not enough doctors in this country who can prescribe medical cannabis at the moment... we need more, and that's the salient point. We need to continue to work together, not be divided on this topic, because that's what I think is happening at the moment."
On Friday, federal health minister Greg Hunt lashed the "dangerous" plan and said it would have opened the floodgates for other drugs, besides cannabis, to come into the country.
"It would have opened the way for personal importation through our airports of hashish and other products that are unsafe, unregulated and even deadly," Hunt said in a release.
"The role of the Therapeutic Goods Administration is to have oversight of medicines to ensure quality and safety. Labor voted to remove this safeguard -- which had been place with bipartisan support... [the change] would have undermined the local, regulated and safe medicinal cannabis industry that is starting to develop."
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