Children will be treated first, as medicinal cannabis is legalised in Australian state

Children with severe epilepsy in Victoria will be among the first to be treated with locally-grown medicinal cannabis, from 2017. But while the legalisation is being hailed as a ground-breaking, the mother of a child with a fatal form of epilepsy fears children may still die waiting for the program to start. 

Cheri O’Connell, whose daughter suffers up to 200 seizures a day, begged the Victorian Government to speed up the changes to allow children to be treated sooner.

Victoria’s Labor government  yesterday approved a cultivation trial of medicinal cannabis, including the use of vaporisers, oils and sprays, on the back of recommendations from the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

There are hundreds of Australian children suffering from painful, debilitating and terminal illnesses whose parents have turned to underground suppliers to ease their suffering.

Premier Daniel Andrews says, “This landmark reform means Victorian families will no longer have to decide between breaking the law and watching their child suffer.”

Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy adds, “Children with severe epilepsy will be the first to access medicinal cannabis in early 2017 because their condition can be life threatening and medicinal cannabis may be their last treatment option.”

The Andrews Government will establish cultivation and manufacturing industries in Victoria to grow marijuana, to create a reliable supply of non-smokeable medicinal cannabis. The Victorian Law Reform Commission says it “does not recommend that people be allowed to grow their own cannabis, nor that cannabis be legalised for wide medicinal use, nor that it be legalised for general use”.

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Among those with priority access will be children suffering from severe epilepsy, like Tara O’Connell. The 10 year-old, from central Victoria, has Dravet syndrome, which caused her to have up to 200 seizures a day. Tara’s mum Cheri began treating Tara with medicinal cannabis in early 2013, and she says it’s had a tremendous impact on her daughter’s condition.

“Tara has gone from spending probably 80 per cent of her time in a wheelchair to walking everywhere,” Cheri tells Babyology. “She has totally toilet trained. Tara’s IQ has been recorded as going from too low to score to 59. And most importantly her seizures have stopped – last seizure (was in) April 2013 and she is now pharmacy free.”

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Cheri, a mother of three, also has a 13-year-old son with a less severe form of epilepsy, as well as a host of other conditions. Sean has also been treated with medicinal cannabis since 2013, and Cheri claims his improvements have been remarkable.

But Cheri says the Victorian government’s plan to legalise medicinal cannabis in 2017 will come too late for some.

“One and a half years is too long. Who is going to explain to the parents whose children die waiting, why they weren’t important enough to be helped now?”

Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford explains, “The trial will allow for safe and secure medicinal cannabis products to be introduced and made available for those people in exceptional circumstances in Victoria. This cultivation trial will ensure supply for patients in the first instance, and provide us with important and scientific information that will support and facilitate the development of cultivation of medicinal cannabis in Victoria.”

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