“As someone who was very against it, I would say that medicinal cannabis has not only saved my life, but it’s given me life again,” Ben Oakley tells Pete Evans.
Ben Oakley is not exaggerating. He suffers from a rare medical condition called Stiff Person Syndrome – and as the name suggests, the disease causes stiffness in muscles and incredibly painful spasms. It affects one in a million people.
Ben tried a bevvy of prescribed pharmaceutical medicines, but nothing worked to stop the pain.
“Five years ago, I didn’t expect that I was going to be seeing him above the ground,” explains Ben’s dad Michael, who’s also a nurse. “If it wasn’t for Jenny Hallam and that incredible cannabis oil that she gave us, he would have. I will always be grateful.”
A last resort
Jenny Hallam is a criminal in the eyes of the law, but a hero to people like Michael and Ben. From her kitchen in Adelaide, Jenny spent years perfecting cannabis oil for medicine. She made her first batch to treat her own chronic pain, caused by a serious car crash when she was twenty.
“You can’t explain it,” Jenny says. “To somebody who has suffered for 20 years with excruciating pain and never been able to receive any sort of decent relief from the medication the pharmaceutical companies have provided, to have that first dose of cannabis oil and feel your whole body just relax. The pharmaceutical drugs don’t do that. They might take the pain away, but they block up your stomach. The cannabis just made everything amazing.”
Jenny learned about Ben on social media. Convinced cannabis oil could help ease his pain and relax his muscles, she sent him some of her home brew.
“I was as hesitant, as you’d expect,” reveals Michael. “We discussed it at length before we actually went ahead. Ben turned around and said, ‘What have I got to lose?'”
“Dad walked in and said, ‘How’s your pain?'” recalls Ben. “My average pain level is between a 6 and a 7, and the lowest I’ve had was probably about a 5. I reported a pain of 3.”
“I literally nearly fell over,” says Michael. “That was the least [pain] Ben had been in for nearly three years. It’s a no-brainer.”
“My biggest fear was the fact that it’s an illegal drug,” admits Ben.
Jenny’s given away her cannabis oil to hundreds of grateful people. But as word spread, the authorities got wind. In April 2017, the police arrived.
She wasn’t concerned for herself at all. “I was so angry at them. All I kept thinking is, people are going to die. Kids are going to die. Who else can help them?”
Jenny pleaded guilty to drug charges and is awaiting sentencing. She faces up to nine years behind bars.
But Jenny’s campaign to provide medicinal cannabis for all who need it is seen by anti-drug crusaders as a threat to society. Drug Free Australia’s Gary Christian fears if Australia broadens access to medicinal cannabis, recreational users will fake illnesses just to get high.
“When you’ve got recreational users using medical cannabis as their pathway to entrench this drug within our community, I don’t think Australians want that,” Gary says.
He also believes the effects of cannabis are largely a placebo.
Although Ben Oakley can no longer get his cannabis from Jenny, he got lucky and qualified for a rare medicinal cannabis prescription. But there’s a huge catch – the cost.
“$1,695 in advance every three weeks to provide the only medication that has given my son any form of relief,” reveals Michael. “As opposed to what I was getting from Jenny [for] free. The other option is I grow my own.”
“Good luck trying to stop me. I am looking after my son. You want to criminalise me for doing what’s right by my son? You’re in for a fight.”
Morgan Taylor has Crohn’s disease, a condition that attacks the gastric system and causes severe pain, anaemia, weight loss and fatigue.
“It has affected my life in every way,” Morgan explains. “I haven’t had a relationship, I haven’t been able to work, so my mum started researching anything that could help. The one thing that kept coming up was medical cannabis.”
Her mother Karen was willing to do anything to help her daughter. “I went online and I found all these seed banks in Europe. They sell it openly, and there’s a great deal of information. I ordered seeds from overseas, I had this sent to my home and I planted them.”
Morgan’s parents built a greenhouse in their backyard in western Sydney and started growing dozens of plants to make cannabis juice.
“Within a month, my life completely changed,” reveals Morgan. “I stopped bleeding, I stopped having pain, and I got a job. It was miraculous.”
For three years, the Taylors broke the law by growing their own cannabis. Then on the 8th of December 2017, their house was raided and police charged Morgan’s dad Steven with growing an illegal plant.
A sympathetic judge let her dad off with a good behaviour bond, but Morgan felt responsible for her parents breaking the law.
“Every day in this country, people are trying to help their loved ones, their children,” says Karen. “Then they are being dragged to the courts like criminals for trying to help their kids. This is what’s happening.”
For now, Australia is definitely not leading the way in medicinal cannabis. But the tide is turning slowly turning, and even the harshest critics now admit cannabis oil can help children with epilepsy.
“The one thing that it is okay for is for childhood epilepsy,” admits Drug Free Australia’s Gary Christian. “You actually get a reduction of about 20% of seizures over placebo for these kids. Some of them have miraculous results and most seizures go, but by the same token there are other kids who don’t get any result [and it] actually makes it worse.”
Jenny is realistic about the uses of cannabis. “It is not a cure, it does not work for every single condition, and it doesn’t work for every single person, but it is more effective than any other medication that is currently available.”
Morgan believes it’s time for the rules around growing cannabis in Australia to be looked at. “It’s breaking an unjust law. I don’t know whether that law should be in place, but I guess we are breaking it.”
The system within Australia also infuriates Michael. “The most frustrating thing [is] most of the politicians that I have spoken to over this – and we have spoken to dozens – admitted to us discreetly and privately, ‘Yeah, I have a smoke occasionally.’ Hypocrisy pisses me off.”
Reporter: Pete Evans | Producer: Stefan Mitchell