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Australia's Medicinal Cannabis Heavyweights Start The Rebellion

"She's an upset mum. Upset mums get shit done."

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Ethan Miller / Getty Images

It was on the 12th floor of a Sydney office building usually taken up by one of the country's biggest law practices that Australia's leading minds on cannabis reform, black market supply, patient access, and healthcare came together to discuss how, exactly, the battle for easier access to legal medicinal cannabis should be waged.

After months of planning, medicinal cannabis campaigner Lucy Haslam brought together professors, doctors, nurses, and barristers on Thursday, and sat them next to underground medicinal cannabis manufacturers and the hippies from pro-cannabis communities on NSW's north coast.

The meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule, which means comments made at the event can be reported, but not attributed to a particular attendee.

It was hoped the meeting could form a unified front for creating easier and fairer access to a drug that, since its legalisation as a medicine, has been a struggle for the average Australian to obtain.

Much has been written on the difficulties facing Australians who wish to access medicinal cannabis legally, with the end result in most cases pushing patients towards a black market. Professor Iain McGregor of the University of Sydney's Lambert Initiative has estimated there are around 100,000 people using cannabis as a medicine in Australia.

At Thursday's meeting the Australian Medical Cannabis Alliance (AMCA) was born, and a plan created that would not only raise the profile of the issue, but also push far more aggressively on politicians deemed to have not done enough.

"I put it to you: If you are in this room and not prepared to sign your name to say that you are here...it's probably better that you should walk away," was the warning first issued to attendees.

No one did end up walking away in protest, instead participating in a lively eight-hour roundtable that highlighted the multiple issues facing Australia's medicinal cannabis pathways.

Perhaps one of the larger issues was a matter of presumption – mainly the general belief that specialists know more about medicinal cannabis than GPs do. Medicinal cannabis use and prescription, in a legal environment, is still new to most Australian health professionals.

Cannabis has for almost a century been categorised as a drug that is as hazardous as heroin, and the reeducation of not just specialists, but also the public, will be crucial to any forward march.

GPs from Victoria and NSW spoke of the difficulties of access but had differing roadblocks. For Victoria, it was the state-level system that halted the patient's pathway. For NSW, it was the opposite, with promises of easier access through things like the much-touted "medicinal cannabis hotline" only acting as further layers of bureaucracy.

There were many Very Big Deals and Very Important People present, one of whom assured the room that time was on the side of the alliance.

"Often, we do not know enough or we do not want to know enough, and if we don't know we disengage and say we do not want to be involved," they said.

"The regulators failed us by making OxyContin so widely available on the PBS [Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme] and now we have a drug we know doesn't work and we are still allowing it to harm our patients.

"There is a genuine opportunity for once to get something right in Australia, which will take time and commitment."

For Australia's black-market medicinal cannabis providers, the entire process seemed to be, for lack of a better term, a clusterfuck.

Following the meeting on Thursday afternoon a supplier to thousands on the black market told BuzzFeed News the alliance created would help strategically put something together.

"You have to form particular strategies," they said. "If you start with no idea, then how are you going to create an outcome?

"Lucy [Haslam] has been very diplomatic about this and holding us back a little bit with our vitriol and rage about being on the ground with these patients...but when you create an alliance you create a larger threat than a single person.

"She's an upset mum. Upset mums get shit done."

The AMCA's future strategies will be made clearer in the coming months – but now, equipped with a more formalised set of goals and methods, the alliance could be what transforms access to medicinal cannabis in Australia into a topic of national conversation.

Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Brad Esposito at bradley.esposito@buzzfeed.com.

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