BREAKING NEWS: Australia’s most fervent and high-profile advocate for medicinal cannabis, Lucy Haslam, is stepping away from her day-to-day campaigning after a decade battling stigma, ignorance and “politicians playing God”.

Haslam has resigned as chair of the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA), stating it was a “good time to hand the baton over to fresh eyes and those with more drive and energy”.

Dan, Lucy and Lou Haslam

The 10 years of campaigning and lobbying – inspired by the fight to access treatment for her son, Dan – are understood to have left Haslam exhausted and in need of a break.

She said the decision to step away from AMCA, and the medicinal cannabis sector more broadly, “has not come without enormous anguish”.

Haslam will remain an ambassador for AMCA and has been offered lifetime membership of the association.

Emily Rigby has been named interim chair of AMCA, with Fiona Patten interim deputy chair.

AMCA said the United in Compassion (UIC) Symposium “will endure as Australia’s original and premier medicinal cannabis event, with AMCA proudly taking the reins”.

Board members paid tribute to Haslam. Dr Teresa Nicoletti, who co-founded the association with Haslam and Gail Wiseman in 2020, said the medicinal cannabis industry “would not be where it is today without the efforts of Lucy Haslam”.

The former nurse, who began the campaign to legitimise medicinal cannabis in 2014 after Dan was diagnosed with cancer, said the fight to tear down barriers is far from over. But she stressed it was important to recognise how much progress has been made.

“It is very easy to feel like a glass half empty in the medicinal cannabis space” she said. “I realise there is still so much to do to overcome stigma and to ensure patients are recognised and respected in a way that all other… patients are.

“But it is important to acknowledge just how far we have come and appreciate that the very lonely journey I started, with my dying son Dan in 2014, is not so lonely anymore with a rapidly growing and vibrant sector now in place to complete unfinished business.

“When I think back to 2014, we dared not say the word ‘cannabis’ out loud, for fear of legal repercussions. There was no way of knowing whether going public would be met with sympathy and support or with a knock at the door from police and criminal charges. That in the mix with coping with a young son who was terminally ill was the hardest part of my life but at the same time, the very reason why this cause has, and still does matter so much to me.

“I strangely felt that this cause had chosen me as much as I chose it.”

Haslam said the suffering of patients who were denied access to medicinal cannabis “will always stay with me”.

“I had seen more than my share of human suffering in my nursing career and especially owning a community outreach nursing service,” she said.

“Legal access was worth fighting for. I use the word fight because it has been a battle. A battle to change the minds of politicians, powerful bureaucrats, conservative health professionals and even everyday Australians who have been so influenced by the propaganda machine and the war on drugs.” 

Yet even when the Malcolm Turnbull Government legalised medicinal cannabis in early 2016 – on the first anniversary of Dan’s death – barriers remained, and the battle resumed, Haslam recalled.

She accused politicians of ignoring the professional judgement of medical professionals, describing their actions as “unbelievably cruel”.

“We had to fight for individual patients who were being denied access for a range of ridiculous reasons… they lived too far from the prescriber; the state health officer denied the access because of lack of evidence, even though the patient had been assessed by their doctor and approved by the Federal Government.

“Patients were made to jump through ridiculous and often overwhelming hoops like having weekly GP visits for supervision or having to drive hundreds of kilometres to pick up the medicine from the closest pharmacy that was prepared to dispense it.

“Politicians played God and doctor and interfered with the doctor-patient relationship in a way that saw no boundaries.

“Today those examples almost sound unbelievably cruel and hard to imagine. But that was the way it was, and change did not come easily. It took constant advocacy over a sustained period, and the founding members of AMCA were front and centre.” 

Haslam’s resignation from AMCA comes a week after she achieved a “personal milestone”, and one that had also been craved by her son.

“Last week… I was able to ring one of our clinicians at short notice to ask that he prescribe medicinal cannabis for a terminally ill young man,” she explained. “In an instant, he said he was happy to do so, and that medicine was supplied free of charge and in the urgent time frame it was required.

“I strangely felt that this cause had chosen me as much as I chose it.”

lucy haslam

“That for me was what Dan wanted before he died… that patients in urgent need should be able to access cannabis easily and affordably.”

She added: “I am extremely proud of Dan’s legacy and hope that I have done him and the sector justice. As difficult as it is to step down as chair, I know that AMCA is in great shape and fully capable of filling any void.”

Nicoletti added: “In my 30 years in the health and life sciences sector in Australia, I have not come across anyone who has so selflessly championed a cause in the interests of Australian patients and achieved so much,” she said.

The achievements are all the more impressive given the “steadfast resistance to legalisation, the complex bureaucracy and, at times, open hostility that she had to grapple with”, Nicoletti said.

AMCA founding board director Justin Sinclair said: “Lucy’s compassionate advocacy, leadership, relentless drive and dedication to challenging, and changing the status quo around cannabis as a medicine has been inspirational to behold.”

Working with Haslam has been “one of the highlights of my career”, AMCA general manager Gail Wiseman said.

“On the basis of her honesty, character, experience and commitment to patients, she is irreplaceable,” she said. “I have worked with Lucy on an almost daily basis since AMCA was founded, and her ongoing dedication to the commitment she gave to her son, Dan, and to patients in need of medicinal cannabis, has been nothing short of extraordinary.

“After giving everything for nearly a decade, I understand her need to have some rest now, and more time for herself and her family.”

Rigby praised Haslam’s “leadership and tenacity”, adding “I look forward to working with AMCA and the broader industry into the next chapter as we continue to build the industry and improve patient access”.

Board director Bryan Ebstyne said Haslam has been “instrumental in transforming the narrative surrounding cannabis medicine in Australia”.

“Her grassroots campaigns, impactful symposiums, and legislative efforts have ushered in new possibilities for countless patients,” he added.

Steve has reported for a number of consumer and B2B titles over a journalism career spanning more than three decades. He is a regulator contributor to health journal, The Medical Republic, writing on...

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