ANDREW Katelaris has spent much of his adult life fighting the authorities over cannabis.
A medical doctor with a PhD who was struck off in 2005 and subsequently convicted of growing more than 40,000 cannabis plants near Dungog, Dr Katelaris is playing a leading role in the latest push to have cannabis recognised for its medicinal properties.
Interviewed in Newcastle on Tuesday, Dr Katelaris, 59, said it was time for a revolution in attitudes to medical cannabis.
‘‘I am concentrating on the treatment of childhood epilepsy, the most intractable cases that conventional medicines can do very little for,’’ Dr Katelaris said.
‘‘The families that come to me for help know all about my history with the authorities.
‘‘The drugs that the specialists use for childhood epilepsy have horrendous side-effects but there are none with the cannabis. None of the families have ever come to me and said take them off the cannabis.
‘‘But the specialists don’t want to know that it works, they don’t want to know why it works because it challenges all of their preconceptions, all of their learning.’’
As the Newcastle Herald has reported in recent months, an underground network of Hunter people are growing and supplying cannabis oil to others who self-medicate to treat cancers and other serious conditions. (More here)
Leading Hunter oncologist Professor Stephen Ackland said recently that cannabis did appear to have some anti-cancer properties and that further study was warranted.
While Dr Katelaris agreed that ‘‘no-one is the full handle on why it works’’, he said legal approval to treat people, not further studies, was the real priority.
The pro-cannabis push gained political momentum earlier this year when Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson began highlighting the plight of a constituent, Daniel Haslam, 24, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010 and who uses cannabis in his treatment.
Premier Mike Baird has promised that terminally ill adults will not be charged if they are caught by police with the drug.
But Dr Katelaris said that until the government stopped prosecuting growers and processors, the move was little more than window-dressing.
NSW Hemp Party campaigner B.J. Futter said the next major step in the campaign was a two-day conference in Tamworth to be opened by Premier Baird on Friday, November 22.
The Australian Symposium on Medical Cannabis has been organised by Dan Haslam’s mother, Lucy Haslam, and supported by the region’s Fairfax newspaper, the Northern Daily Leader, through its ‘‘Do it for Dan’’ campaign.
Mrs Haslam told the Leader on Tuesday that the conference could ‘‘rewrite history’’ by changing cannabis laws.
‘‘As it stands, there are hundreds of Australian parents out there who are watching their children slowly die of seizures and are scared to use cannabis oil because it’s illegal,’’ Mrs Haslam said.
"How can we sit by and let that happen?"
■ DUNGOG area farmers have formed a co-operative to process industrial hemp.
Dr Katelaris said he was involved with the project which aimed to process industrial hemp for various products including timber.
A development application for the former Maxwell’s Timber Mill is to go to Dungog Shire Council but Dr Katelaris said the venture’s success would depend on a licence to grow the crops.