Despite legalization, it remains extremely difficult to access medical cannabis in Australia.
Tony Bower (Photo by Tony Bower via Facebook)
Last week, police arrested a prolific Australian medical cannabis grower and founder of Mullaways Medical Cannabis. Tony Bower owns a company which develops cannabis-based medicines to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. As a result of his arrest, some 150 individuals who rely on Bower for his cannabis-based treatments could be left uncared for.
Bower was charged with cultivating, possessing and supplying cannabis, as well as for dealing in proceeds of crime, after police raided his New South Wales property.
He first started growing cannabis on his property after he found that it helped treat his chronic pain. When he eventually had more cannabis than he could consume, he decided to give the excess away to others who he believed could benefit from the plant’s medicinal properties.
Bower has long experimented with plant breeding to cultivate cannabis with high CBD and low THC contents so that medical patients could consume his cannabis-based medicines without experiencing a psychoactive “high.” Mullaways Medical Cannabis also claims to have conducted valuable cannabis research that was slated to be published “soon,” according to the website. However, much of Bower’s plans will now be put on hold as he once again pleads his case in court.
Bower’s first time in court for growing and supplying cannabis was in 1998, at which point he was charged for cannabis cultivation. In 2013, Bower was also reportedly charged with cannabis possession and sentenced to one year behind bars. However, Bower appealed and was released after only six weeks. Then, the following year, Bower was caught with more cannabis plants and charged once again.
In February of 2016, Australia officially legalized medical cannabis. Since then, the government has signaled its intention to expand its medical cannabis operations.
Recently, the Australian government announced that it would approve medical cannabis exports, becoming the fourth country in the world to do so. According to Reuters, the country’s health minister, Greg Hunt, said that the government aims “to give farmers and producers the best shot at being the world’s number one exporter of medicinal cannabis.”
Yet without legal permits from the government, Bower was targeted by Australian law enforcement officers and currently faces criminal charges once again. In his community, Bower is seen as a sort of vigilante, often offering free cannabis-based treatments for those in need, including children with epilepsy. Many see Bower’s independent operation as a necessary alternative to the government-run program.
Despite legalization, many patients have reported that accessing medical cannabis in Australia remains extremely difficult. In one instance reported by ABC News, an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s had her application rejected twice, even though she provided sufficient evidence that she would benefit from medical cannabis. According to some estimates, only roughly one in ten medical cannabis users has been granted permission to access cannabis legally.
As Buzzfeed reports, despite the police raid on their property, Bower’s wife, Julie, is still in possession of a relatively small amount of cannabis oil. Once this supply runs out, the couple worries that those who rely on them to supply medical products to treat their conditions will be left with few options.