Since 2016 medicinal cannabis has been legal in New South Wales. Despite this, significant barriers to its access remain.
Patricia Brierly is 91 years old. She suffers from spondylitis, which leaves her in pain, bent over and struggling to move. She also has macular degeneration, liver cancer and bursitis. Despite suffering constant body pain, by all accounts Patricia's mind is wonderfully active and intact. However, for a long time her quality of life has been impacted severely. Every medication she has been prescribed has failed to reduce her pain, leaving her unable to leave the house and complete the simplest of tasks. Often she is unable to leave her bed. After some research Patricia and her family decided to see if she could be prescribed medicinal cannabis. However, that proved difficult and expensive.
There is one cannabis clinic in Sydney with a few outlets. A referral from a GP is needed to obtain an appointment. The doctor at the cannabis clinic that Patricia was referred to works just half a day a week. That meant the appointment was set after a few weeks. Patricia had to cab 20 kilometres to the clinic with her walker. The consultation cost $200 with another $250 required to process the paperwork, which the doctor explained is a government charge. After two weeks Patricia was notified she had been approved but the doctor at the cannabis clinic was adamant that she needed another appointment. That meant another $125 fee. Her daughter went in her place. Luckily, their local pharmacy was government-approved to fill the prescription, but not all pharmacies are. It took three days for the medicine to arrive. The oil came from New Zealand via a Canadian company as no Australian company is licensed to provide it. Each prescription for the medicine included three 25-millilitre bottles. At $200 a bottle, each prescription would cost $600.
The total cost to fill the first prescription was more than $1,200, including appointments, cabs and paperwork fees, but it was worth the cost and hassle because cannabis oil has changed Patricia's life. She is experiencing no adverse side effects and can now get out of bed. She goes on community bus trips and has met new friends. Despite her long and painful journey, Patricia has been lucky because through her family support she could afford hefty costs. But what about those in our community who cannot afford it? What about those in pain who might not have the support to make regular trips to a doctor and jump through hoops? For some like Patricia, medical cannabis has proven to be a wonder drug. It is the only medication that has alleviated her pain. We should manufacture medicinal cannabis oil in New South Wales. It should be subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and we should allow people to grow and use cannabis at home.