A group of rebellious Northland retirees are the latest to throw their weight behind the legalise cannabis movement, saying they want to have the choice of dying pain-free.
"I want the laws opened up so we can grow cannabis," said Otamatea Grey Power president Beverley Aldridge. "It needs to be as free as growing broccoli. Broccoli is an anti-cancer thing, and so is cannabis."
The 74-year-old said as she aged she had grown tired of watching friends and family members suffer serious illness, while the pharmaceuticals they were dosed with had side-effects as bad as the symptoms they were designed to treat.
Medicinal marijuana, she believed, was the answer.
"We have friends and family who are in the terminal stages of cancer ... who could have their pain alleviated by smoking tokies," she said.
Despite never having taken the drug herself, Mrs Aldridge said her interest in natural medicine spanned some 50 years. Her own research had illuminated her to some of the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis.
"We have a God-given right to use the plants that are available," Mrs Aldridge said. "Meanwhile, we're exposed to fast food and alcohol outlets, with no nutrition and known to be harmful to our health."
She was backed by the 43-member Otamatea Grey Power group, which had unanimously agreed to write to members of Parliament lobbying for cannabis to be legalised. The Otamatea branch had "gone out on a limb", Mrs Aldridge said, and did not have permission for their campaign from the central Grey Power body.
Fellow Otamatea member Kathleen Pattinson, 69, described the death of one friend, who used cannabis as a way to treat pain brought on by his terminal cancer. Mrs Pattinson said her friend's quality of life declined when he was admitted to hospice and given "conventional" pain relief including paracetamol, methadone and morphine.
"It's about having the choice," Mrs Pattinson said. "We want to be able to have the choice of dying pain-free."
Mrs Aldridge said the man was the only one the women knew who had used cannabis during his illness. "The rest are too scared of being criminalised," she said.
Meanwhile, in New York, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne was this morning set to address the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem. In the speech, he was expected to touch on medicinal cannabis. Before leaving the country, Mr Dunne said it was unlikely cannabis would soon be decriminalised in New Zealand, though there was a "change in direction" with how the issue was regarded. He said previously medicinal cannabis would need to be subject to the same tests as other pharmaceuticals.
Mrs Aldridge said there had been numerous studies done overseas showing cannabis could have a number of health benefits.
When contacted by the Advocate, Mr Dunne refused to comment further, saying he was not interested in responding to every person around the country calling for cannabis to be legalised.
Northland GP and former New Zealander of the Year Dr Lance O'Sullivan also recently spoke out in favour of a less punitive approach to drugs.
While he did not touch on cannabis' medicinal potential, he condemned the "war on drugs" and said New Zealand needed to look towards decriminalisation and a health-based approach to its drug problems.
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