The second edition of Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week (MCAW) will take place later this month with a mission to shed light on the medicine’s therapeutic benefits and challenge the stigma that still surrounds it.
The Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association-led initiative, which takes place from February 19 to 25, brings together experts, patients and the broader community to deepen understanding and highlight the potential of the medicine to improve health outcomes.
Launched in February 2023, MCAW is the brainchild of AMCA co-founder and former chair Lucy Haslam, who is now an ambassador and lifetime member of the association. It is timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of medicinal cannabis legalisation and the eighth anniversary of Haslam’s son Dan’s passing.
Dan died in 2015, aged 25, and it was the difficulty he had in sourcing cannabis to help ease his suffering that prompted Haslam’s battle to improve patient access.
AMCA interim chair Emily Rigby said: “Dan’s only relief from chemotherapy to treat his terminal bowel cancer had been cannabis, which his parents then campaigned to legalise after seeing how dramatically it helped him through his aggressive treatment.”
Announcing MCAW, AMCA said the week serves as a nationwide platform to foster meaningful conversation, education, and acceptance of medicinal cannabis within the healthcare system.
“It aims to dispel misconceptions, challenge stigma and emphasise the significant therapeutic benefits that medicinal cannabis may offer to countless Australians in need,” the association added.
Board member Fiona Patten said: “The effect of stigma and misinformation is no more apparent than in the discriminatory legislation and regulations that affect medicinal cannabis patients in Australia.
“We treat our medicinal cannabis patients very differently from comparable countries. This is due to ignorance and a stigma that stubbornly remains eight years after medicinal cannabis was legally recognised as therapeutic.”
Fellow board member and Austranna CEO Bryan Ebstyne added: “I love Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week. It started as the single voice of a mother’s loving crusade for her son and is now championed by a chorus of advocates. This week is a reminder of our humble origins and the substantial impact our united voices have in effecting national change.”
While acknowledging the “significant strides” made by the government and regulatory bodies in advocating for access, AMCA urged policymakers to continue their commitment to further refining legislation and guidelines and “promoting the seamless integration of medicinal cannabis into traditional healthcare frameworks”.
Rigby said: “We are excited about the potential of Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week to increase understanding and acceptance of this valuable therapeutic alternative.
“Through sharing knowledge, experiences and evidence-based research, we aim to solidify Australia’s place at the forefront of the global medicinal cannabis industry, ensuring safe and effective options are available to those in need, without discrimination.”
Board director Justin Sinclair said the week will provide an opportunity to acknowledge how far things have come since 2016, recognise the importance of ongoing education and research, and place the spotlight “firmly on key ongoing issues that still require meaningful change”.
AMCA co-founder and company secretary Dr Teresa Nicoletti added: “Two of the key issues AMCA plans to raise during Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week are the unfair driving and employment laws.
“Patients legitimately prescribed medicinal cannabis, or participating in one of the many clinical trials running in Australia, are at risk of being fined or losing their licences or jobs.
“This is extraordinary, considering that the same patients could use other strong narcotics such as opioids or benzodiazepines without the fear of sanctions.
“All we are asking for is for medicinal cannabis… to be treated in the same way as other legal narcotic medications.”
Board Member Jodie Davis also stressed the need to improve access for veterans.
“We have the evidence [that] medicinal cannabis works for this group of heroes, but it is still not funded for some key indications from which many veterans suffer,” she said.
Conjoint professor, specialty addiction medicine at the University of Sydney and AMCA board director Professor Nicholas Lintzeris said the medicine is becoming increasingly normalised in Australian healthcare, with hundreds of thousands of patients accessing it via a healthcare provider.
However, he added: “It is still an emerging area with much work to do. We need to continue to do research on what works for different health conditions, provide education for consumers and clinicians, ensure we have a sustainable Australian industry producing high-quality medicines, and advocate for much-needed policy and regulatory changes.”