Journalist and documentary maker Helen Kapalos says there’s much more work to be done before patients can swap the black market for legal medical cannabis.
Journalism is not a profession for the faint of heart. It requires a deep commitment to the truth, and in pursuit of that truth, a great deal of stamina and persistence, especially for stories you know have the potential to affect profound change. It requires you to stay the course.
In 2014 I embarked on such a story. The topic was medicinal cannabis, and the subject of that report, Dan Haslam, changed many lives, including my own, for the better.
Although Dan’s story received a large amount of national press attention and led to legislative change, his mother Lucy Haslam understood the key to real change was informing and educating the masses and government.
And so from the corner of a big country town in NSW, Lucy took up Dan’s mission. I was fortunate enough to partner with her to produce the documentary ‘A Life of its Own’, a film which evolved in the Haslam family kitchen as Lucy simultaneously juggled planning Australia’s first international medicinal cannabis symposium in Tamworth.
In Dan’s final months, he formed United in Compassion with Lucy, and delivered the symposium to sell-out crowds, drawing many international speakers. Several more world-class events have followed. Each of them demystified the subject that little bit more, as medical and scientific experts sought to bring greater clarity to audiences.
But pockets of resistance remain in the medical fraternity. Lucy explains: “Many patients are still in Dan’s position, unable to access the legal product for a multitude of reasons like high cost; difficulty finding a doctor willing to prescribe; lack of acceptance by the medical fraternity, ongoing stigma and bias.”
So the indefatigable Lucy Haslam is pushing on. Recently she sent each member of the newly established Parliamentary Friends of Medicinal Cannabis a link to the film ‘A Life of its Own’. It came with a reminder that thousands of Australians are still waiting on essential changes to the legal pathway so they can access medicinal cannabis.
Next up, she’s going to seek the adoption of the recommendations of the Senate Inquiry into barriers to patient access. That includes more clarity about issues such as driving laws which currently allow police to remove the licence of genuine medical cannabis patients who drive safely and without impairment.
And so the story continues to be told until meaningful change takes place. The curious thing about this story is that it comes across as a fait accompli under headlines such as ‘medicinal cannabis has been legalised’. But that does not mirror the reality of the situation. It’s far more complicated than that.
Recently I was contacted by one parent who made the following remark: “Compassion and common sense should be a major consideration in this (debate), but as someone who has been on both sides (illegal and legal) for my son, I have seen much more compassion and empathy from black market suppliers than from the health profession. This has to change. Lives literally depend on it.”
So it means ‘A Life of its Own’ is as relevant as ever. The film features families and experts in equal measure, so the audience can form their own opinion. In the background are a core group of families still lobbying every day to amend the legislation. Some have moved overseas to access the product more readily for their sick relatives, and others have sadly not made it through. The best way we can honour them is to #FixDansLaw.
‘A Life of its Own’ has appeared on Netflix, SBS TV and several international film festivals. Watch it here.