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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Australia to test medical cannabis
Marijuana leaves
Cannabis is said to ease chronic pain
Australia's most populous state has announced plans to legalise the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The authorities in New South Wales say they will launch a four-year trial to see if the banned plant can alleviate chronic pain.

Under the proposal, patients will be able to gain access to the drug through the state's health department.

A number of countries, including the Netherlands and Canada, have laws approving the medicinal use of cannabis.

Patients must be able to show that conventional treatment will not relieve their suffering
Bob Carr, New South Wales premier
Eight US states have taken similar steps - although the use of the drug remains illegal under federal law.

New South Wales Premier Bob Carr said trials for the pain-relieving properties of cannabis would include strict safeguards.

People convicted of an illicit drug offence, on parole, under 18 years of age, or pregnant will not be able to register as a user, he told the state parliament in Sydney.

"Patients must be able to show that conventional treatment will not relieve their suffering," he said.

Support

Mr Carr called the plan a "compassionate scheme".

"It's directed at people like the 62-year-old man with bowel cancer ... (who) uses cannabis to relieve pain and to beat the nausea that stops him from eating," Mr Carr said.

Sufferers of a number of ailments, including multiple sclerosis, have said cannabis eases their pain.

Legislation authorising the trials is expected to pass through the New South Wales parliament later this year.

The main opposition leader in the state, John Brogden, has indicated his support for the trial.


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