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Medical marijuana adviser Southcott "stands by" cannabis criticism

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The Federal Government’s newly-appointed medical marijuana adviser - doctor and former Liberal MP Andrew Southcott - insists he has an “open mind” on the use of medicinal cannabis, despite today standing by his previous assertion that the drug is “not safe”.

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Southcott’s appointment as chair of the new Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis was announced two days before Christmas in a statement by Health Minister Sussan Ley – who today announced she would stand down over the escalating row over her travel entitlements.

Southcott returned to medical practice in Adelaide after retiring from politics in July.

The Commonwealth’s stance on medicinal use of cannabis will have significant bearing on South Australia, with industry advocates claiming the state could cash in on a multi-million dollar bonanza with appropriate regulation.

InDaily reported last year that police and other agencies had been seconded to a working group to consider appropriate regulatory measures.

However, a police raid last week on Adelaide grower Jenny Hallam, who says she gives away free cannabis oil products to the sick and terminally ill, has again highlighted that the industry is yet to achieve its long-sought legitimacy with authorities.

Southcott himself, as the Liberal Opposition’s spokesman on primary healthcare in 2011, previously railed against the “normalisation” of cannabis, in response to Food Standards Australia New Zealand reviewing the use of hemp as food.

“What I’m saying is that cannabis itself as a drug is not safe… I think that there are a number of concerns which are valid, which have been raised by police agencies and also by the Department of Health,” he told ABC radio at the time.

Asked about the potential economic boon of hemp exports, Southcott told the ‘PM’ program: “Really it does need to be seen as part of a wider campaign to normalise the use of marijuana.”

“For example, there are concerns that are being raised on the difficulties between determining what is a low THC seed, which might be available for cooking, and what is a high THC seed… so I think there are a lot of problems with this application and I think it’s important that the state health ministers and the Federal Health Minister rule out going down this track,” he said at the time.

Today, however, Southcott told InDaily: “I’ve got an open mind on this issue [of medical marijuana].”

Asked about his new appointment, he said he was “not doing any media on that at this stage [as] it’s still a little bit premature”.

But he said he had been “following the [media] coverage fairly closely” and had “some briefings coming up”.

Of his previous comments, he said: “They are the comments that I made in 2011.”

“I definitely stand by them [but] I see the two things as quite separate,” he said.

“But I’m just waiting for the briefing.”

Announcing Southcott’s appointment, Ley said the advisory council was “a vital component of the Government’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme”.

“I’m pleased that Dr Southcott has agreed to chair the Council and bring his expertise as a doctor to this important Australian Government initiative for patients and their doctors to have access to a safe, legal and reliable supply of medicinal cannabis products for the management of painful and chronic conditions,” she said in a statement at the time.

“This new Council will look at all aspects of patient healthcare, cannabis therapies, related research, palliative care and patient advocacy.”

The council is scheduled to sit for the first time next month.

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