Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless is among the growing number of people interested and now pushing for the use of medicinal cannabis.

The Xena: Warrior Princess star was speaking on a panel last night as part of an initiative by the Start The Conversation group - an organisation whose aim is to inform the public about cannabis; particularly its medicinal qualities and the impacts of prohibition and legalisation.

The event, held at The Pumphouse Theatre in Takapuna, also featured BMX Olympian Marc Willers, medicinal cannabis user Dr Huhana Hickey, Paul Manning from biotechnology company Helius Therapeutics and one of the group's founders, Abe Gray.

L-R: Activist Abe Gray, actress Lucy Lawless, Dr Huhana Hickey and BMX Olympian Marc Willers. Photo / Vaimoana Tapaleao
L-R: Activist Abe Gray, actress Lucy Lawless, Dr Huhana Hickey and BMX Olympian Marc Willers. Photo / Vaimoana Tapaleao

Lawless became an ambassador for the group after a request was made by the late former president of the NZ Council of Trade Unions, Helen Kelly, who died from cancer in 2016. She had long supported medicinal cannabis.

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Lawless said although she was not a smoker, she was keen to understand more about how cannabis can be used to help those who needed to be free of pain.

"It's not part of my world, but I'm very, very interested in a safer society and most particularly for my friends who are suffering from cancer and conditions that cause a lot of pain and nausea.

"I think it's really cruel and unusual that we withhold a non-toxic, effective natural drug...and criminalise them or the people - their families - who try to supply it for their well-being."

The event comes after National announced last month details of a bill to allow medicinal cannabis products to be treated like any other medicines.

Lawless said she had looked at Portugal as an example of a country which was doing well after its move to decriminalise the use of all drugs in 2001 specifically to fight a heroin epidemic.

Figures showed that despite what many disbelievers thought was a hugely risky move, overdose deaths decreased dramatically and the rate of new HIV infections continues to drop each year.

"They were seeing it as a public health issue instead of a criminal issue - and the benefits to their society have been massive. They've had a reduction [in drug addiction] and deaths."

Willers, who represented New Zealand at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, is also supporting the cause after he realised he had a problem with sleeping pills and began taking cannabis to help with his sleeping issues instead.

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He acknowledged that there were a lot of misinformed people when it came to cannabis and he wanted to help them better understand.