Victoria may have been the first state to greenlight the growth and distribution of medicinal cannabis, but for the moment anyone caught doing this is still liable for prosecution. This inconsistency has prompted 59-year-old grandmother and cannabis grower Heather Gladman to launch a hunger strike in Melbourne's Treasury Gardens. She was arrested in February over her black market trade in medicinal weed, and hasn't eaten since.
Heather is calling for an amnesty for growers until medicinal licenses become available. To find out how this is going we spent an afternoon in the park where Heather's various supporters were decorating her pagoda.
VICE: So Heather, when did you decide to start cultivating marijuana?
Heather Gladman: I've been growing cannabis for the last 40 years. When I was 18 my friend gave me a joint and I enjoyed it, but as part of the deal I got half a dozen marijuana seeds. I kept those seeds and from then on I started growing cannabis. I've never wanted to be a dealer, I've never bought or sold anything. I just used my plants over and over again and grew cannabis wherever I lived.
But you gave it to people suffering various illnesses. How did this work?
I was a part of a compassion club, which is a group of growers who look after each other and grow cannabis for those who need it. I would have about eight people who get it off me regularly. I don't charge people because it doesn't cost me anything to grow and because I've always wanted to say I've never dealt cannabis. But a lot of the time I can't help everyone, so I give away seeds and teach them how to grow. I tell them, if you can grow tomatoes you can grow cannabis.
Tell me about the raid at your house the other week.
I was dobbed in on February 18. The police came to my house and charged me with cultivation. At the time the police were very considerate and fair and I told them to wait because I had to speak to someone who had a direct line to Daniel Andrews. That didn't work out and before you knew it I was helping the police get rid of my 40 plants. I went to the police station for questioning and I came home and couldn't eat. I had a knot in my gut and it didn't shift so I was like right, I'm going to keep going, I'm going to do something about this stupid law.
And you haven't eaten since?
That's right, I haven't eaten since I've come back from the police station. One of the journalists from back home said there was no point in starving myself to death out in the middle of nowhere and suggested I do something more public. I'd much rather be at home with my feet up having a coffee and eating biscuits but that's not what's going to happen.
And how do you feel?
I was energetic a few days ago but over the last day, and today, it's been an effort. It hasn't been easy but someone has to do it.
Has the Victorian Government reached out to you at all?
Not at all. I have tried to talk to Daniel Andrews for the last two months, every week I would send an email, but I got no response and feel angrier and angrier. I don't believe my government will let me die. I'm not strong and I can't fight the government so all I can do is start something and hope people will follow.
It seems odd that you need to do this now that legislation has been passed both in Canberra and Victoria around the legalisation of medicinal marijuana.
Yes but the law is way too slow and people are going to get worse because they can't get the cannabis they need. In the interim, I want amnesty for all growers until the government gets their act together and supplies safe cannabis for people who need it. The law is far from good.
So what's your game plan?
On Sunday my supporters organised a rally outside Parliament House and one of the speakers is going to be a cancer victim with three months to live. They're trying to implement a roster to keep this going so someone will always be here on a hunger strike. It's really about getting people on board and raising awareness for change.
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