Barry Lambert is gazing out the picture window of his Sydney home at a multimillion-dollar beach view. Around him his grandchildren fiddle on their phones while his wife Joy sips tea. Lambert drinks a cappuccino he’s just bought at the local café. It’s a charming family scene – except for one thing. At the table beside him, his son Michael is committing a crime that carries a sentence of up to two years’ jail.
Michael, 44, takes out a tube that says “Hemp Oil 20 per cent CBD”, squeezes it and smears the brown paste onto a corn chip which he then gives to his daughter Katelyn, who is draped sleepily on her mother Saowalak’s lap. Katelyn, Lambert’s four-year-old granddaughter, wakes briefly and chews on the chip.
The oil is an extract of cannabis, a substance prohibited under the NSW Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act of 1985. It is being used to treat a dangerous form of childhood epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, although there is as yet little hard evidence to prove its effectiveness.
Asked how he feels about the use of an illegal cannabis product to treat Katelyn, the 70-year-old Lambert, who has sat quietly as his family squawks and scraps around him, pauses a little awkwardly before answering softly but firmly.
“Bad laws deserve to be broken. I am fully supportive. It is the right thing to do.”
Until last year Barry Lambert was known in Australian business circles chiefly for his success in building Count Financial, a chain of accounting and financial planning shopfronts that he started 35 years ago and eventually sold to the Commonwealth Bank for more than $373 million. That 2011 sale landed him a spot on the BRW Rich 200, where he was ranked the 156th wealthiest Australian last year.
So it was a surprise when Lambert publicly associated himself with the cause of medicinal cannabis. With little warning, he gave a press conference in August at which he announced that he and his family would donate $34 million to the University of Sydney for what is called the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics.
Lambert’s mind-boggling donation has put him at the crossroads of some of the most difficult issues in health, ethics and business. Suffering families welcomed the boost he has given to research that could benefit thousands, if not millions, of sick people. Police and conservative politicians, however, worry that medicinal cannabis will be a Trojan horse for legalisation of recreational drugs and quack therapies. There are also doctors who will not recommend medicinal cannabis given its still unproven benefits.
Ingrid Scheffer, professor at Melbourne University and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, is one of them. The world expert in paediatric neurology, to whom the Lamberts turned for advice, says cannabis is potentially beneficial in some cases but has been hyped. “It is not a silver bullet.” She says she is not yet able to recommend it because so far there is no hard scientific evidence of its benefits in treating epilepsy, although she is optimistic that proper clinical trials will give an answer in the very near future.
“It worries me how often I don’t get asked about the risks of medicinal cannabis,” says Professor Scheffer. “There is good data showing a link between cannabis and psychosis and we know there are people we see through our adult epilepsy program whose epilepsy won’t come under control until they stop taking cannabis. We need to weigh up the risks and benefits but I think that medicinal cannabis will have a place in the treatment of epilepsy in the near future.”
Read more: http://www.afr.com/brand/afr-magazine/why-millionaire-barry-lambert-invested-34-million-in-medicinal-cannabis-20160313-gni315#ixzz47EFdeRZj
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