One of Australia’s leading barristers is set to defend a Winmalee man in what promises to be a landmark legal battle over medical marijuana.
The former chair of the Australian Republican Movement and adviser to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, Greg Barns, has offered to work for free for Winmalee father Steve Taylor who is facing a potential jail term after juicing home-grown cannabis to treat his ill daughters.
Stephen Taylor spent more than five years watching daughters Morgan, now 21, and Ariel, 25, suffer from the chronic auto-immune condition Crohn's Disease. The pair were repeatedly hospitalised with the condition and had serious side effects from pharmaceutical drugs. Ariel had her colon removed and Morgan currently has a stoma bag attached to her small intestine.
With wife Karen, he started researching the uses of medicinal cannabis. They could not find a doctor willing to take on the extensive Therapeutic Goods Administration process to legally access medicinal cannabis, so Mr Taylor took matters into his own hands and started growing the plants in their backyard.
"A couple of times I carried Morgan into hospital weighing around 32 kilograms — actually carrying her in my arms and crying," he said.
“The girls nearly died many times … what do you do?” Mrs Taylor added sobbing. “It was our medicine for them. It was the only thing we could do.
“We chose juicing because of the greater access to the healing cannabinoids than more common forms of medicating.”
After several weeks of drinking 90ml each of raw juiced cannabis every day, the girls were recovering and Morgan went “into remission” last year, Mr Taylor said.
“I was exercising and I gained weight, I got up to 50 kilos. I was working,” Morgan said.
Then a tip-off saw their rented home raided on December 8. Police took away 107 plants and charged Mr Taylor, 64, with cultivating a prohibited plant and two counts of possessing a prohibited plant.
But Mrs Taylor said her family is determined to “make a stand”.
“I believe access to medicinal cannabis is a human right,” she added.
“If they want to send me to jail they can, but we are seriously going to fight this,” Mr Taylor said.
“Any good parents, if they had been through what we have been though would have asked what are we left to do?” Mr Taylor said.
Barrister Greg Barns, said his “interest in the case and offer to assist pro bono is because it is outrageous that in Australia today we criminalise those who use and provide substances like cannabis which are clearly of benefit to many in our community”.
Doctors are divided about access to medicinal cannabis which was legalised in Australia in 2016.
Iain McGregor, professor of Psychopharmacology at the Lambert Initiative For Cannabinoid Therapeutics at Sydney University, spoke to the ABC’s 7.30 Report who profiled the case, and said juicing cannabis was not at all like smoking the plant. He said the release of THCA [tetrahydocannabinolic acid] from the juicing had “very strong anti-inflammatory properties in the gut”. Other sources the family found online, including American Dr William Courtney, said “unheated it [cannabis] is not psychoactive” and is “tissue repairing and helps the auto immune system”. But others doctors, such as addiction specialist and member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Adrian Reynolds, are concerned that while “there may be a benefit but there may be a risk and a harm”.
Labor Upper House MP and Mountains resident Adam Searle has met with the family and encouraged them to write to other Upper House members about their situation.
Mr Searle, who is also a lawyer, has accused the NSW government of purposely delaying medicinal cannabis applications from doctors for patients with terminal illnesses and other serious medical conditions and is battling to bring a Bill into Parliament to make access easier.
“Access to a safe and secure medical supply of medicinal cannabis is about sympathy and compassion,” Mr Searle said.
NSW Opposition Health spokesman Walt Secord has said while in Canada and Israel, there are tens of thousands of patients getting lawful access to medicinal cannabis. In NSW, there are less than 50 patients receiving medicinal cannabis by prescription from their doctors.
On Saturday the family met with Sally McPherson, a lawyer from Northern NSW, who is also willing to work pro bono, to help them prepare for their case. The case is set down for mention in Penrith Local Court on March 23.
Despite continuing her battle with the debilitating disease, Morgan Taylor said she hopes to be able to help her dad when he has his day in court.
“I want to get up and testify. I want to be an advocate. I want to fight.”