Australia’s relationship with medicinal cannabis is messy.
Legalised in 2016, the drug has been lauded as a miracle by patients, while the system developed by the government to prescribe it has been criticised at almost every turn. Red tape, bureaucracy, complex process – you name it, the medicinal cannabis community has dealt with it in the last three years.
‘High As Mike’, a new documentary that chronicles the journey of Tamworth man and brain cancer patient Mike Gallagher as he questions how medicinal cannabis might help him, could be what politicians and the general public need to see.
Activists and professionals constantly criticise the processes surrounding medicinal cannabis in Australia, and a growing number of GPs want to prescribe the drug but have no education on how they can or when they should. ‘High As Mike’ is a ride-along journey where the audience is privy to the nation’s chaotic regulatory regime, while also featuring almost every major figure within the cannabis (medicinal and otherwise) in the country.
From the bearded nature-first community of Nimbin, to Sydney University, to the international offices of Canadian experts, Gallagher even makes contact with Olivia Newton-John – who uses medicinal cannabis – and her husband, John Easterling, a longtime cannabis activist. It’s not always a fun journey – Gallagher’s tumour will eventually cause him to go blind, and we experience that process with him – but it is always interesting and informative.
The Sydney pre-screening of the doco is held upstairs at the Landsdowne on Broadway, seats lined up in front of a wall that reads “FUCK THE FUN POLICE”. It isn’t the first screening. The film has been toured down the east coast on the back of a grassroots campaign aimed at raising funds and booking theatres. Peter Cross, one of the directors, tells me it has received a great reception and has hopes that the film achieves mainstream cut-through.
Monday evening’s screening was as much about informing the media as it was celebration, the end of 18 months of hard work. Cannabis functions (trust me) are usually split between a bunch of wannabe Patrick Batemans trying to make coin off of the “green rush” and a bunch of doctors and experts who are fucking furious about the whole thing. The regular cliches do exist: long hair, big smiles creasing through bigger beards, brightly coloured shirts, and an uncommon openness about illicit drug use, but there’s also more. Lucy Haslam, one of the public faces of medical cannabis reform, is present and features in the documentary. A Sydney doctor, one of only 57 authorised prescribers across the entire country, is also present, and chastises the government and the Therapeautic Goods Association for its system.
With Scott Morrison and the Coalition winning the latest election, medicinal cannabis activists and doctors calling for reform know that the road ahead is tough. Both the government and the Labor Party have been careful in openly discussing the drug – Minister for Health Greg Hunt would have you believe everything about the system is great, while Bill Shorten’s Labor only announced its medical cannabis policy via change.org in the final days of the campaign.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing activists is the separation between recreational and medicinal cannabis, something health professionals in the space are always quick to lean on. The mantra “this isn’t about getting high, it’s about getting well” may as well be stamped on every doctor’s forehead. Much of the general public still does not understand the difference between the two, and why a regulated medicinal supply is a necessity, separate to the conversation about recreational use.
Now that ‘High As Mike”; is out, no politician, reporter, writer, or member of the public with even a cursory interest in the drug has an excuse. The information is out there – and it’s not even hard to find anymore.
‘High As Mike’ is screening in independent cinemas across the country, and the filmmakers are also encouraging the public to organise their own screenings. Find out more at HighAsMike.com.Image: Getty Images / [Photographer name]