September 13, 2016
WHILE ARRESTING SYDNEY’S city criminals for cannabis possession, former drugs squad copper Lou Haslam never believed he’d end up here.
He’s on a quiet, green farm in Tamworth, preparing it to host Australia’s first ever legal cannabis crop, soon to be surrounded by high security fencing.
He certainly never believed he’d be the dad persuading his son to take a puff of a marijuana joint, after previously giving anti-cannabis lectures as a formal part of police detective recruit training:
“I took as gospel the propaganda we were fed about cannabis: that it gives men sperm count of zero. That it builds up like lead. That it’s the most dangerous drug around. All bloody myths. Only this campaign told me the truth.”
That campaign was started by his wife, Lucy. She logged on to Change.org and asked not to be treated as a criminal for providing her terminally son, Dan, with medicinal cannabis. Going public with their personal story was the first step of a long campaign for the Haslams. They amassed 250,000 petition signers who they used as an army of campaigners to successfully pressurise State Premiers, Health Ministers, party leaders and pharmaceutical giants.
After 35 years in the police, including 8 as a drugs squad officer, Lou left the force when his 21-year-old son Dan was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. Lou and Lucy desperately wanted their son’s final years to be his happiest. But it seemed impossible:
“Dan would find any tactic, any excuse to delay his chemo clinic appointments. Who could blame him? He’d come back sick as a dog, painful ulcers filled his mouth right down his throat. He couldn’t keep anything down and it killed his appetite anyway. He couldn’t even speak. Then just when he could, it was time for chemo clinic again.”
Lou will never forget the night everything changed – thanks to a spliff:
“When a friend suggested Dan try cannabis, Dan said ‘Dad won’t have a bar of this.’ But a parent will do anything, absolutely anything to help their kid in agony. The results were sensational. We’d give him a smoke just before and just after chemo clinic. Just a puff. That first night he asked for steak and eggs! That was unheard of – I’m not making this up. This wasn’t a placebo effect. We later found out, through all the petition signers leaving comments, everyone using it medicinally felt the same effect. That last year of Dan’s life was the best of the five since his diagnosis. His nausea eased, his appetite returned. We got Dan back, even if it was only for a year.”
During this time, Dan married his university sweetheart, Alyce.
Lou insists he never saw himself as a ‘dealer’ to his son: “No way in the world. A crime needs an intent and my intent was to help my son. Thanks to our campaign and the petition, it’s now off the prohibited substances list and from November, doctors can prescribe it.”
In the February of 2015, Dan Haslam died. He was 25.
As a legacy to Dan, his parents stepped up their lobbying. They’d already convinced NSW Premier Mike Baird (who wrote a piece dedicated to Dan titled “the young man who changed my mind about cannabis.”) Next, they used their army of 250,000 signers to lobby senior politicians for them. Thousands of people suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses who’d previously been terrified of arrest, felt empowered to admit using medicinal cannabis in the petition’s ‘reason for signing’. It was a collective shout that got so loud, politicians could no longer ignore it.
The fight wasn’t easy. The Haslams still had to take on the pharmaceutical juggernauts: “Big pharma lobbied like crazy against decriminalisation. They knew cannabis medication would take away from their business.”
In February 2016, on the first anniversary of Dan’s death, the Haslams won. Health Minister Sussan Ley issued an official response to their Change.org petition announcing the federal law would change to decriminalise medicinal cannabis. Lucy calls it ‘Dan’s Law.’
Lou needs to get back to preparing Australia’s first ever medicinal cannabis crop farm, named DanEden. “I must get going, time to go back to the farm. It’s beautiful out there”, he says as he signs off.