Back to top

One-man cannabis van raises queries of legality

Daily Dose 2010-11-29 0 comments

By Tim Elliot, published in The Sydney Morning Herald

Tony Bower, operator of Australia's first dispensary, gives away free medical marijuana tinctures to qualified patients.

AUSTRALIA’S first medical cannabis dispensary is operating from the back of a van in a car park at Nimbin.

For more than a month Tony Bower, of Kempsey, has been dispensing 25-millilitre vials of his therapeutic cannabis tincture free to anyone who can produce a medical certificate confirming their condition.

His chronically sick patrons, who include those with AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis, number in their hundreds. Mr Bower is an Aborigine and said it was against his culture to refuse to help them.

The problem is that it may be illegal, but it is hard to tell.

“It’s a grey area,” Debra Sands, Mr Bower’s lawyer, said.

“It’s complex, and it’s incredibly political. Tony wants to bring his product to market, but has been repeatedly frustrated by the health bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the police don’t seem to want to know about him.”

Cannabis has been shown to relieve pain and nausea in those with HIV, cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases and migraines. Its anti-spasmodic properties have proved useful in treating spinal-cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and Tourette syndrome. The medicinal use of cannabis is legal in Canada, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Israel, Italy, and in some states of the US.

In Australia a synthetic cannabinoid known as Marinol has been available for 10 years. Last year the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved the use here of a British drug called Sativex, a mouth spray made from botanical material. However, to get either of these products doctors must apply for a special authority from the Federal Department of Health.

“It’s incredibly bureaucratic,” Mr Bower, 55, said.

“And meanwhile people are in pain and suffering, and I have a product that works.”

He makes his medical cannabis tincture from marijuana he grows himself. Caught for cultivation 12 years ago, he went to court in Kempsey, but emerged with what amounted to an exemption to grow cannabis for medical use.

As some people did not want to smoke, he developed his oil- and alcohol-based tinctures. They do not get you “stoned”, but have noted anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.

Mr Bower has registered his company, Mullaway’s Medical Cannabis, and has applied for a drug manufacturer’s licence from the TGA. But before the TGA can act, approval to produce and research his cannabis must be granted by NSW Health.

A NSW Health spokesman said Mr Bower had failed to supply enough detail of his project, a claim Mr Bower denies.

Debra Sands intends to take Mr Bower’s case to the Supreme Court. “We want to challenge whether people like Tony can provide this product and why NSW Health won’t test it … Tony is pushing the envelope.”