Families should not be forced to break the law

Tamworth mother and passionate advocate for legalisation of medical marijuana Lucy Haslam says more supporters are coming on board. She writes that one of the latest is the former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Mick Palmer, who has told her he’s written a letter to metro media supporting the plight of her son Daniel. She says Mr Palmer told her he was compelled to write. This is what he said:

The practical common sense of Dan’s mum Lucy and his dad, Lou and the courage, common sense and compassion of Superintendent Pheeney, in exercising his 

discretion and allowing and supporting young Dan to alleviate his pain and suffering by taking cannabis, despite that it is an illicit drug, is a credit to Lucy and both men in a very difficult and sad situation. 

The 26,000 signatures gathered in a Tamworth petition calling for legalisation of the drug, is clear evidence of the groundswell of support for their actions.

As I have said previously, as a 33-year career police officer, I am neither a promoter of illicit drugs use nor an apologist for illicit drug users. Obviously, neither are Lou Haslam or Clint Pheeney.

Lou is a former drug squad detective and Clint Pheeney, the senior police officer at Tamworth and both men, I suspect, would be likely to have fairly hard-nosed attitudes towards the illicit drug trade.

But, as Lou Haslam says, “the science is there, the use of cannabis for terminally-ill people or people on chemo, is a fact, it does relieve nausea and gives them an appetite”.

Lou Haslam is absolutely correct. The evidence is there. 

Sadly, however, Dan Haslam’s experience is all too common and too many Australians, young and old, are afflicted by cancer and other serious illnesses which result in prolonged suffering. 

If there is any chance that cannabis can help such people lessen their pain and improve their quality of life, it is a brain-dead decision to deny them that opportunity. 

Governments should not place sufferers and their families in a position where they are forced to break the law to gain relief, nor should they require police officers to exercise discretion in their favour in order for them to escape prosecution.

Policing is already too tough a profession without placing individual officers in a position where they have to be prepared to condone people breaking the law, in this case repeatedly, in the exercise of compassionate and common sense discretion which allows terminally-ill people to ease their suffering.

Our drug policy should not make criminals out of victims, but should recognise the drug use problem for what it is, a health issue. 

People take drugs for a wide variety of reasons, including critical pain relief, and the aim of our policy should be to seek to provide the most effective levels of medical and other support that it is reasonably possible to deliver.

This approach is not new.

Despite the Howard government’s reputation for being “tough on drugs”’, his government was the first Commonwealth government to help fund the needle and syringe programs run by the states and territories and also allocated substantial funding to help move drug offenders from the criminal justice system to drug treatment and diversion programs. 

These were all excellent policies but they were all harm-reduction rather than prohibitionist tough on drugs policies, because, quite simply, the evidence was there. 

“Being tough on drug traffickers and dealers is one thing. Treating drug users as criminals is quite another. We need to be prepared to recognise the difference.

The case of young Dan Haslam is obviously an acutely personal one for Dan, his family and friends and for the wider Tamworth community. 

We need to more broadly personalise the reality of our current drug policy, as the Haslams and Superintendent Pheeney have done in the current case, and recognise that changes must be made to our 

current illicit drug laws if we are to protect the people who most need our support and protection.

As Superintendent Pheeney said “Why should we, with people with a terminal illness, create a criminal act for accessing things that relieve their pain?”


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