Olivia Newton-John has pleaded with authorities to fix the shambolic state of legal medicinal cannabis in Australia.
The entertainment legend said she is a regular user of medicinal cannabis to help relieve the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer, and that patient access must be improved in Australia.
There are only 57 authorised prescribers of medicinal cannabis.
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph to promote the new Australian documentary High As Mike, which examines the current cumbersome patient access scheme, Ms Newton-John, 70, said her husband grows the marijuana for her.
Ms Newton-John is married to John Easterling, founder of Amazon Herb Company and in her home state of California, it is legal to grow and use medicinal cannabis.
“My husband is a plant medicine man and has been for 35 years. He grows it for me and makes it for me and it has helped me greatly,” she said.
“It was something I wasn’t comfortable with at first because it wasn’t anything I was used to but I started very slowly with tinctures and so you don’t have to smoke anything. It started to give great relief from pain.
“It has also helped with inflammation and sleep and anxiety and many other benefits we are still discovering. I think they will find cannabis will not only help with disease but cure it too.”
The Grease star was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and last year she learned it had spread to her back.
Ms Newton-John hopes Australian authorities can improve the patient access scheme for legal cannabis which has proved so restrictive and frustrating, sufferers have turned to the black market.
“It is not compassionate or kind that they are making it so difficult for people because I am proof it works, you don’t die from cannabis yet we have a terrible opiate problem in the world, people dying of opiates and cannabis can take the place of opiates and people will not be dying,” she said.
“Throw away the red tape and make it accessible to people who are in pain and suffering and be compassionate,” she said.
HIGH AS MIKE
Three years after the law was changed to permit medicinal cannabis, thousands of people are still being considered criminals for using it.
The debacle of the patient access scheme is the subject of a new documentary called High As Mike, which follows the story of Mike Gallagher, a Tamworth man with a benign brain tumour that causes seizures and vision loss.
It explores Mr Gallagher’s 12-month-long quest to find a GP to prescribe the legal prescription when there are only 57 authorised prescribers, forcing him to consider the easier route — the thriving black market trade.
“I found road blocks all the way along. I found one GP who would prescribe it but the regulations stipulated she could not prescribe it because I lived outside the 80km zone. She was in the Blue Mountains and I live in Tamworth,” the 54-year-old told The Sunday Telegraph.
“There’s only 900-odd people who are currently accessing legal medicinal cannabis and probably a conservative estimate of 300,000 using medicinal cannabis illegally.”
On his journey across Australia, he interviewed suppliers of black market cannabis oil and parents and patients who are breaking the law to obtain relief.
The Sunday Telegraph reported on the plight of Dan Haslam in 2015. The young terminal bowel cancer sufferer — also from Tamworth — was forced to break the law to obtain medicinal cannabis which alleviated his pain and nausea.
He was just 25 when he died of bowel cancer, but his story forced the federal government to pass Dan’s Law and permit legal prescription cannabis.
Three years after Dan’s law, his mother Lucy Haslam is disgusted the situation has not changed for thousands of ill people who are still being considered criminals for using cannabis.
Despite Dan’s Law, medicinal cannabis products remain unapproved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the drugs can only be acquired through the Special Access Scheme, which many doctors find onerous.
Mrs Haslam has set up a petition to decriminalise medicinal cannabis and has almost 325,000 signatures.
“Cannabis is in regulatory limbo, it’s an approved unapproved medicine and those who can get access can’t afford it. Some are paying up to $40,000 a year, so it’s not sustainable,” Ms Haslam said.
“The access scheme is a debacle and we need an independent regulator for cannabis products, not the TGA.”
Sydney lawyer Teresa Nicoletti, who has represented clients who have been charged for sourcing illicit medicinal cannabis, said her clients had been forced to source black market cannabis after failing to navigate the legal route.
“They’ve sourced illicit cannabis because they have been refused access legally. I’ve fought to get them access but even for me who understands regulatory frameworks it’s taken six to nine months,” she said.
Mr Gallagher said the TGA regulations were too restrictive.
“I do not have a life-threatening illness, so the TGA won’t allow me access to it,” he said.
High As Mike is scheduled for release at the end of the month.