BY REBECCA REIDER
It was one of those days for remembering why I’m alive and why I’m in this fight. Wow.
I traveled to speak at Parliament twice last month – once on behalf of NORML, and then once on behalf of myself. I did not realise beforehand how powerful these experiences would be. The first time I arrived at Parliament for the hearings, I actually started crying as I walked inside, at the realness of it all. The last time I had been at that hulking grey edifice, it was to give a speech outside on the steps, as we delivered Rose Renton’s petition together asking for change back in October 2016. Now we were going inside, and the people who are paid to make laws were legally required to sit and listen to what we had to say.
We are now in the middle of the Select Committee process on the medicinal cannabis bill. The journey of the last few months has been: The government proposed a hastily-written, basically terrible bill; about 2000 people wrote submissions on it; and now the Health Select Committee, a group of 7 MPs, have been listening to submissions in person. We’ve been telling our stories and telling the MPs how to make the bill better before it goes back to the full Parliament for further debate.
(Here’s an opinion article I wrote a while back about what’s wrong with the government’s proposed legislation.)
Having followed the Select Committee hearings in detail over the course of a month, it amazed me to observe in person how the MPs on the committee actually did seem to evolve as they listened to cannabis patients’ stories. On the individual submissions day on 30th April, nearly two hundred of us spoke. There were some incredibly powerful testimonies. Patients and caregivers talked about terminal illness and the folly of defining it in law; about how cannabis has totally changed individuals’ lives with everything from migraines to PTSD; about how the police have mangled the lives of genuine medicinal users; and more. Three years ago, there was only one illegal medicinal user speaking up: Helen Kelly. And now there are hundreds of people going to Parliament specifically to announce that they have been breaking the law. Courage is contagious!
It amazed me, on that day of patient testimonies, to see that most of the MPs actually seemed to be engaging on a real human level. I watched a dear friend of mine, age 32, reveal that she has a brain tumour, and that studies show her life could be successfully extended with cannabis. The chair of the committee visibly quaked in her seat.
I watched National Party (yes, National!) MPs thank participants quite genuinely and comment on how their own understanding was evolving – “Wow we didn’t know you could use cannabis to treat PTSD, thank you.” Some of these MPs are coming from a place of extreme, extreme ignorance (I’ve been tracking their comments over time) – and some of them are actually learning and growing. It all felt very human. They’re human, we’re human, everyone is capable of suffering, we all just live in bodies that want to feel well. Life and death and the democratic process – there was a lot of realness going down in those chambers.
It was also warm-fuzzy-affirming to reconnect in person with our medicinal cannabis advocacy community – people who use cannabis for their health conditions or their family members. Many of these folks have been through really intense medical journeys; there were a number in wheelchairs. This advocacy world often feels like a long-distance family as we network with each other across the country. Each time we get together in person, I meet folks I had only known on Facebook. There’s something quite powerful about all coming together out of our own individual suffering to create liberating change for the collective. One of my favourite arguments for ‘why cannabis clearly doesn’t ruin lives’ is that the people this plant has introduced me to are some of the most compassionate, intelligent, kind humans you could find.
In a great little quirk of fate, I got to present in the same session as my attorney Sue Grey, who saved my butt once upon a time and has been advocating ever since. Presenting in our same session were Rose Renton and Shane Le Brun and his wife Kat. Rose and Shane are amazing campaigners who have done so much for this cause. It felt like a powerful confluence to be presenting together, because not only are we all prominent advocates; we’ve all gotten busted along the way, and Sue has represented us all. It felt so right to be sitting together telling the lawmakers exactly how ridiculous the law is, and how wrong the police were in pursuing any of us – me for healing myself, Rose for helping lots of people by providing medicine, and Shane for trying to grow medicine for his wife.
Just over two years ago, I was in a courtroom with Sue defending me and it was very new to be making any kind of legal argument about medicinal cannabis at all. And now we were sitting together telling lawmakers how to change the law. Not bad! Activism works.
I also did a fair bit of media activation to make the most of the day. I put out a press release for NORML and we had a good journalist presence there, with TV cameras and print media present.
I could really feel the smallness of this country, and the immediacy of history. Although the currently proposed law does suck, we as campaigners are the ones who forced this government to propose that law in the first place – and I believe we are in the process of forcing them to make it better. People can change things! Democracy is a thing! I know this more deeply in my bones now.
Here’s a recent interview I did that sums up the major changes in the bill that many of us are asking for. After hearing so many aligned testimonies, I will be very surprised if MPs don’t give us at least some of the changes we are looking for.
My own testimony went well. I’m also a spoken word poet, so I posted on Facebook asking my friends if I should turn my testimony into a poetic performance – and the response was so strong I couldn’t not do it. I tried to make eye contact as much as possible with the MPs who went in and out of daring to meet my gaze. I spoke about my experience getting busted, trying lots of pharma drugs vs using cannabis, my journey with pain, etc. It was deep and beautiful to be able to share my truth clearly in those halls. I have found with both my recent submission speeches that beforehand I’m super nervous, but in the moment I just feel calm, connected and secure in the fact that I know way more about cannabis than these lawmakers!
After my submission, in the hallway, a lovely young man in a wheelchair said to me something like “That’s really shit what happened to you,” referring to my getting busted. In that joyous moment, I couldn’t help but reply: Nah mate, look where it’s landed us!
Watch Rebecca Reider’s medicinal cannabis testimony, in rhyme, below: