Plantem, left, with some of the Free Tony Bower posters at the rally. Photo Jeff ‘Nurse Ratched’ Dawson.
The call to legalise medical cannabis, and to release from jail a man considered a hero by cancer sufferers around Australia who use his free medication, was loud and clear at the 21st annual Nimbin MardiGrass drug law reform rally held at the weekend.
Thousands of people again lined up to show their support for drug law reform in a march and festival that included talks by doctors, academics, politicians and activists, as well as the usual workshops on the benefits and wide uses of cannabis which have been suppressed for so long by governments the world over.
The mood for change was palpable, especially with the NSW Upper House inquiry findings next week expected to recommend legalising medicinal use of cannabis, but exactly how it will be regulated is yet to be determined, and eagerly awaited.
‘Free Tony Bower’ was the cry that most reverberated throughout yesterday’s rally along the main street of the counterculture capital of Australia.
Mr Bower, 56, is still in custody despite lodging an appeal against the one-year jail sentence handed down by a Kempsey magistrate last month for growing cannabis for medicinal use for his popular free tincture, which is now widely used to relieve pain by sufferers of cancer and other diseases.
Supporters have been outraged by his jailing, and many have continued his work dispensing the free medicinal cannabis. He was expected to talk at the MardiGrass but prevented from doing so by his jailing. An appeal date has been set down for June 3.
Mr Bower, if released in time for the September federal election, is expected to sit as the HEMP Party candidate for the senate.
Longtime campaigner for legalising medical cannabis, Dr Andrew Katelaris, told a large crowd at the MardiGrass yesterday the Bower case was an outrage and an example of ‘pharma-fascism’ at work.
Dr Katelaris, an expert in postoperative care, said it was shameful that Mr Bower was jailed for helping young children suffering from epilepsy and that his tincture, which stopped them having epileptic fits and kept them alive, was being ignored by medical and legal authorities.
Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) president Michael Balderstone agreed, saying it was ‘absolutely appalling’ that medical cannabis was prohibited when it was now known to help so many children and adults suffering from diseases which legal medications failed to help them.
Mr Balderstone said, ‘those who stand in the way of an epileptic child’s seizures being stopped, almost instantly, with no side effects, are very heartless and sick souls’.
‘How tragic does it have to get before politicians will act on this?’ he said, and urged people to sign an online petition or contact politicians ‘to enlighten them on what we are missing out on’.
He said the word ‘is spreading fast out there on the internet about cannabis’s healing properties since it has become legal across so much of America’ and ‘hundreds of cancer sufferers also are phoning the HEMP Embassy wanting cannabis medicine’.
Greens MP Cate Faehrmann and Richmond MP Justine Elliot both attended the MardiGrass, but were not quite on the same page.
Ms Faehrmann was a guest panelist at one of the many forums on drug law reform, while Mrs Elliot gathered signatures for a petition against coal seam gas (CSG) mining.
Ms Faehrmann said it was time for a ‘sensible approach’ to drug law reform and there was ‘a mood for change’ for those wanting to use cannabis for pain relief.
She said the Greens supported medical use of cannabis as there was lots of evidence to suggest it helped disease sufferers relieve their pain.
‘Why on Earth then would we not ensure that those people can have access to this drug, we’ve got a lot of access to a lot of prescription drugs, this one sounds like it works and it’s time to have sensible look at it,’ she said.
Her call, and that from a sufferer of Crohn’s disease who uses Mr Bower’s tincture and who told at one of the panels how it had given him back his life, comes as Australian Associated Press today reported that bowel disease among Australians was tipped to rise.
The report says the number of Australians with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is expected to grow from 75,000 to 100,000 by 2023.
The lifelong disease that mostly affects young people has a low profile, even though it cost the national economy more than $US360 million ($A352.8 million) last year.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by Crohn’s and Colitis Australia calls for a national approach to IBD care, but the tincture that Melbourne man Matt Walker told a MardiGrass audience yesterday was the ‘best thing’ to have happened to him, is largely ignored.
Mr Walker said other medicines had not worked for him and chemotherapy made him sick, but Mr Bower’s Mullaways Medical Cannabis tincture allowed to sleep properly and not have to suffer from bouts of diarrhoea up to 20 times a day.
‘The tincture has opened a new door for me, the suffering before was a real jail sentence, but this has made the pain go away. I can now go back to work and uni,’ Mr Walker said.
Forums at Nimbin’s annual gathering of cannabis law reformers included ‘Enlightened Activism’, ‘Imagining Nimbin after weed is Legal’, ‘Is it Medication Time’ and ‘Cannabis as an Entheogen’.
Workshops and talks included how to make cannabis tincture.
Mr Balderstone told Echonetdaily that America’s laws had changed, with nearly 20 states covering 40 per cent of the population, legalising medical cannabis and others set to follow suit.
He said that was because the people kept demanding justice and a fair go, ‘which is exactly why we gather here at MardiGrass’.
Police reported the festival was relatively trouble free and the crowd mostly well behaved, except for a few alcohol-related incidents.
They said there were seven arrests arising from 70 drug detections and estimated the crowd in the village at around 3,500.