Cannabis stops the pain
Ann Vernon would like to understand one thing about the lawmakers who oppose the medical use of cannabis.
"I think you would have to be pretty heartless if you're faced with these absolutely desperate people . . . and they say this [cannabis] helps and you turn them down? I don't know."
It is a question Ms Vernon, who sufferers from chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, asks herself often. The most recent occasion was last week when she was standing before a judge on charges of cultivating cannabis.
Ms Vernon, 40, had plants in her home because she uses cannabis to ease her chronic pain. When the judge heard her medical evidence, backed by her doctor, he discharged her without conviction.
"He listened to me talk about what it was like to live with constant pain."
The mother of three has now vowed to devote her time to fighting for changes in the law to allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes.
It was a doctor who first suggested cannabis to Ms Vernon.
Years and years of chronic pain - she was thrown from a horse as a teen and later suffered complications from surgery - left the once-active woman bedridden and in constant agony.
Sitting and standing were so agonising she would cart a mattress from room to room just so she could lie down.
Conventional painkillers failed and eventually cannabis was recommended.
"At first I was like ‘Oh what!' I'd smoked cannabis as a teenager . . . now and then," she says. "But then you get that desperate you will try anything."
The drug - ingested with a vapouriser she imported from Australia - worked.
"With cannabis I have quality of life. I've come so far now that clearly I am not bedridden."
Ms Vernon says that, while cannabis comes with a high, medical users get used to that very quickly. "I don't find the high from the cannabis anywhere near as debilitating as the high I was getting from normal painkillers."
Cannabis also helps with sleep and with appetite. "I also had a huge amount of nausea and that just wipes it."
But she says it is hard not to feel like a criminal: "I have never even had a traffic infringement notice, not a parking ticket, nothing. So, yes, breaking the law is awful. To be made to feel like a criminal for something a doctor recommended to me and has helped me is awful."
Being allowed to grow cannabis for medicinal use would mean less harm to the community, she says.
"It is also very hard, and very expensive, to get decent-quality cannabis. The supply is inconsistent, you don't know what you are getting."
Medical-cannabis patients are rendered vulnerable, she says.
"Many of them are much worse off physically than me and can't come forward to speak.
"Some of the things I have seen, some of the effects I've seen of people when they consume cannabis. I've seen people get some movement back in limb they've had no movement in for eight years.
"I can't imagine how cold people have to be to stop them from using the one thing that helps them."
- © Fairfax NZ News