Tamworth has a reputation as a conservative town, a status its residents live to defy. A mother’s wish to comfort her son battling cancer with any means became the spark for a national conversation about medicinal marijuana use and ultimately shifted the Australia’s paradigm of the drug. Lucy Haslam said it was the attitude of Tamworth’s people which helped changed laws on the drug, but her fight for increased access rolls on.
“IT’S your fault I have to do all of this,” Lucy Haslam tells close-friend Dwone “DJ” Jones.
Their worlds collided a few years ago, brought together by the gravity of bowel cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Mr Jones survived his “aggressive, severe” cancer, while Mrs Haslam’s son Dan tragically passed-away in February, 2015.
Mrs Haslam has been on a brave and tireless crusade for medicinal cannabis access in the wake of her son’s death.
Background: What’s this ‘Faces of Tamworth’ all about?
The Tamworth mother has become a national figure in the cannabis debate, something Mr Jones is responsible for in her mind.
“Dan and my relationship went from zero to 100 because I had bowel cancer myself,” Mr Jones told The Leader.
“I had a pretty aggressive, severe form – with a lot of chemo and radiation – mine was able to be treated but I was very, very, very sick.
“I was on 280mg of Oxycontin which is a morphine for pain.”
Losing weight and his appetite, Mr Jones was getting rocked by his cancer treatment and pain medication, so his partner, Jay, started researching and thought medicinal cannabis could be an option.
“Within six weeks I had reduced my morphine intake from 280mg to 110mg,” Mr Jones said.
“I spoke to Lucy – and I was afraid of the stigma – and I said I’m not a drug dealer, my whole life has been about health and fitness.
“I said this helped me and I think it will really help Dan.”
Mr Jones still gets quite emotional thinking of Dan after battling with “survivor’s guilt” for many months following his friend’s death.
“I’m just now in a place where I can do something to honour my friend,” he said, with tears welling in his eyes.
With renewed strength, Mr Jones is calling on Tamworth to once again show its support for the medicinal cannabis cause.
Mrs Haslam’s charity United in Compassion will be hosting its inaugural Hummingbird Ball in Tamworth in November this year.
It’s hoped the ball will become an annual event and a key fundraiser for United in Compassion’s cause.
“Tamworth is a very community-minded place and I believe that financially our businesses will support, we will put the resources that we need to put behind it to make it a success,” Mr Jones said.
“This will just be something annually that Hopscotch and 360 Fitness Club, our two businesses, will get behind and make sure that it is a success.
“[And] make sure that we sell-out every year.
“We are doing this for Dan, in that we raise enough money so that Lucy can have the ability to fight this long battle.”
Mr Jones is hoping more businesses in Tamworth will be able to throw their support behind the fundraising ball.
Right now, the pair are calling on the community to save the November 25 date in their diaries, with more information to come in July about how locals and businesses can donate and offer support.
‘We thought they’d snub their noses at us’
The Hummingbird Ball will be held on November 25 at the Bishop Peter Chiswell Hall at the Calrossy William Cowper Campus on Moore Creek Rd.
Mrs Haslam said this would be the first major fundraising night for United in Compassion since it attained charitable status.
“We thought that [the Tamworth community] might snub their noses at us, but they actually embraced us.” Mrs Haslam said.
“And part of the reason our campaign for medicinal cannabis was so successful was because of the attitude of the Tamworth community.”
While it is a celebration for the community-minded town that rallied behind the Haslam family, the money raised will go towards the costly exercise of educating medical professionals and the community about medical cannabis.
Organising this event and non-stop lobbying have become part and parcel of Mrs Haslam’s everyday life as she honours her commitment to Dan’s legacy.
While it was Mr Jones who introduced the Haslams to medicinal cannabis, he insists the seemingly never-ending campaign which has evolved isn’t his fault.
“This is where the guilt and everything came in – because, I’ll be honest – when they made the decision and Lucy took it in the direction it went in, it scared me,” Mr Jones said.
“Because I don’t want people thinking I’m a drug addict.”
Mr Jones said he had two prominent Tamworth businesses targeted mainly at families and “was afraid of the backlash”.
“My thing is, I’m not responsible, I’m responsible for helping my friend … she’s responsible for all of this,” he said, laughing.
‘She had the courage to do something I didn’t’
Mr Jones has lived in Tamworth for just 10 years, but he says it is a very progressive-community.
“Ten years ago we were having conversations around the Sudanese,” he said.
“We now have a community that, per capita, is more diverse than any regional centre in Australia.”
Impressed by progress made in the community, Mr Jones perhaps wasn’t overly surprised by the city’s capacity to understand the changes which needed to be made on medicinal cannabis.
“This is a movement where people saw a mother – with her love for her son – pick up a fight so that no other mother had to watch their son or daughter go through unnecessary pain and suffering,” he said.
“That’s the core of this.
“I’m proud of her.
“She had the courage – and the strength – to do something that I didn’t.”