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THERE couldn’t have been a more fitting day. On the first anniversary of my son Dan’s death from bowel cancer, medicinal cannabis was decriminalised in Australia. It’s bittersweet. This legal milestone will forever be a way I’ll remember my brave son.
I’ve dedicated my life to this since Dan first tried cannabis. My husband and I were Australia’s least likely ‘‘drug dealers’’. We never saw ourselves that way. We just made our son’s final months as comfortable as possible. As an ex-nurse, cannabis was not something I used as medicine. My husband was an even less likely provider: he was previously in the NSW police drug squad. We knew we could be prosecuted for supplying it to Dan. We didn’t think that was right.
Neither did Dan. He was 25 when he died. We had to persuade him to try cannabis. Immediately it alleviated Dan’s nausea from chemo and restored his appetite. We cried with happiness when he smoked his first joint. It was a life-changing response we never anticipated.
My journey has been unexpected and improbable. My final promise to Dan, who campaigned with me, was to allow other Australian sufferers — with illnesses such as cancer, epilepsy and HIV — to benefit from the miraculous effects of medicinal cannabis. Today, I’m so proud to fulfil that promise.
This was a people power win. Medicinal cannabis was in the ‘‘too hard’’ basket. The power of Dan sharing his story accelerated things. I took to petition platform Change.org and just told Dan’s story.
At first people in their hundreds started signing. I was moved. Then people in their thousands both signed and commented on the petition. From those comments, I connected with parents like me. They were petrified of providing cannabis to their desperately ill children. I was overwhelmed when 250,000 signed my petition — the biggest ever victory on Change.org Australia. Politicians could simply no longer leave it in that too hard basket.
I’m delighted there was cross-party support. NSW Premier Mike Baird wrote for this newspaper about “How a young man changed my mind on cannabis.” That was Dan. Greens leader Richard Di Natale championed this change and Health Minister Sussan Ley and her opposition counterpart Catherine King gave bipartisan support.
As I watched parliamentary proceedings this week, MPs discussed people they’d met who told their personal medicinal cannabis story. These were everyday, desperate Australians we’d reached out to through our campaign.
I haven’t finished with this campaign. We need to develop an effective compassionate access scheme and our not-for-profit organisation, United in Compassion, will make that the goal. We’ll also provide education via events like the Medicinal Cannabis Symposium in Sydney in May.
Cannabis will soon be prescribed by Australian doctors. I’ll work to ensure the maximum number of patients can benefit from this reform. Dan would expect no less.
This week was a landmark in the way Australia treats its most vulnerable, those suffering acutely from chronic, life-threatening and terminal illnesses. Dan is at peace and on the anniversary of his death, this was a poignant tribute to his life.
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