Our People

These are the personal stories of our spokespeople. Average Kiwis from diverse communities who feel we need to have this conversation. Read their stories and make a comment or share your own story.

Dr. Geoff Noller PhD

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I have a background in social science and qualitative research. I am currently an independent consultant specialising in substance use research, contracting to universities, government and the private sector. I have undertaken ethnographic fieldwork in New Zealand, Australia and the Caribbean and presented at international conferences (Australia, Europe and the Caribbean) and national fora, and I am currently involved in a number of research projects in New Zealand.

I completed my PhD at the Otago University Medical School’s Department of Psychological Medicine in 2007, studying New Zealand cannabis users. My thesis examined the use of cannabis as a cultural practise and critically assessed New Zealand Drug Policy. I conducted in depth interviews with over 90 individuals, including 80 cannabis users and 11 government officials. I found that the often repeated stereotypes about cannabis are not accurate, and that many people from all walks of life use cannabis, including professionals, tradespeople, ranging in age from youth to the elderly. Cannabis to be sure causes harm for some people, but for others it appears that the benefits they receive from their cannabis use outweigh any harms experienced. Some feel strongly that cannabis enriches their lives and that their use of it represents a rational alternative choice to alcohol.

Due to my academic background I periodically comment officially on court cases, and I have seen the effects of prohibition on average New Zealanders. So often, people with drug problems do not receive the help they need when dealt with by our justice system. In some cases it appears that the most harm caused to the user is actually a result of the illegality of the drug.

Ever since I completed my PhD research, it has been clear that an open and honest national conversation about cannabis is sorely needed. In the years that have passed since, this conversation has started very earnestly overseas, but it has not yet happened in New Zealand. It is more important now than ever, and we hope you will join with us to share your views, so we can move forward as a community on this complex national issue.

Sincerely,

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Dr. Geoff Noller

Sgt. Angus Fisk (Ret.)

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I have 35 years experience in Law Enforcement.

I spent seven years serving in the New Zealand Police, where I gained the rank of Sergeant. I continued in the criminal justice field with 14 years in the Probation Service, gaining expertise in supervision, counselling and psychotherapy with probationers, parolees and victims. I then spent seven years with Child Youth and Family (CYF), working in both rural and urban care and protection social work settings and in investigating physical and sexual child abuse.

I established the sentence of Community Service throughout Dunedin and South Otago, earning praise from the Judiciary and an award from the Justice Department for his contributions to the Probation Officers Manual. I also conducted group therapy at the Salisbury Street Foundation and established and ran an alcohol and drug treatment programme in Paparoa Prison (ADAPT) for two years on detachment from Probation. ADAPT earned praise from many agencies and the then Minister of Justice, (Sir) Geoffrey Palmer.

I obtained my Diploma in Social Work and Certificate of Qualification in Social Work at the University of Canterbury in the mid 1980s, and served long term placements with both the Mahu Alcohol and Drug Treatment Programme and the Christchurch Public Hospital Crisis Team. These were both invaluable in expanding my knowledge and skills and I went on to develop expertise in addiction, violent offending (with victims and offenders) and the supervision of parolees.

Over the past ten years I have engaged in advocacy work primarily with victims of police sexual misconduct. My report to the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark, in support of Louise Nicholas' call for an independent investigation into Police misconduct led directly to the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct, which in turn precipitated major changes in police culture, policy and conduct.

I am also the founding member of New Zealand Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Through my many roles in Law Enforcement over the years, I have had the ability to effect positive change in many Justice clients. I have also seen the barriers to public trust and respect for the Police created by the prohibition of drugs, especially cannabis.

I believe we as a community need to have a serious conversation about the cannabis issue. We spend millions of dollars every year enforcing cannabis prohibition, with no reduction in cannabis use. From my experience as a law enforcer, many of the harms associated with cannabis appear to be caused by prohibition, just as we saw in the past with alcohol.

Please share a story or a video with your experiences of cannabis and prohibition in New Zealand. If people from all across the spectrum genuinely participate in this conversation, maybe we can start to agree on a better way.

Sincerely,

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Sgt. Angus Fisk

Mr. Nathan Parker

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I have worked as an educator for 30 years. As a school principal for several decades I have seen the effects of drugs and drug policy on the communities I have worked in.

My career has taken me to mainly small schools throughout Northland and Otago. My interest in teaching has lead me to be an 'open education' practitioner, sharing knowledge freely through online education communities.

Presently I am a part-time primary school teacher, a husband, a father and a grandfather. I am also vegan, a non-drinker and a volunteer for a charitable trust that assists with drug addiction.

I have known many cannabis users over the course of my years. Many of them feel cannabis has enhanced their lives and they have suffered no harm from it.

After recent travel to Europe and North America I was inspired to become an advocate for drug law reform in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

I feel it is important for New Zealanders to discuss cannabis use openly and honestly, reflecting our changing times and current research.

I believe "Lets start the conversation" is the appropriate forum for open discussions about the effects of the drug, and prohibition.

Please join us with your comments or share a short video of your story.

We welcome your participation in this conversation.

Sincerely,

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Nathan Parker

Ms Cheri Hawthorne

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I am a typical southern woman. I grew up in the South Island, in a classic seaside town with only a fish and chip shop and a dairy. For the last 13 years I have called Dunedin home.

I have been a cannabis user for 27 years. However it was not until a recent trip to the US, that I learned that this plant truly does have medicinal benefits. Seeing the benefits of medical cannabis and the real relief experienced by suffering patients truly changed my life. The changing US attitude to prohibition of cannabis, especially for medicinal uses, showed me how important it is to have this conversation, and inspired me to return to New Zealand and be vocal about this issue.

I always assumed my cannabis use was purely recreational, but the more I learn about the medical uses of cannabis, the more I realised the relief I was in fact getting from my use. I have noticed that when I use cannabis my general muscle pain that I usually experience in the neck and back is greatly reduced. I have also noticed that the occasional puff of cannabis helps me to regulate my mood, and as a middle aged woman I have found this indispensable.

I am also very interested in the idea of Hemp as an industrial crop. Our economy is based on agriculture for export, and I believe we can achieve sustainable economic development by exporting the numerous products such as, food, fabrics, paper, building materials and oils, that can be made from Hemp. It's time for New Zealand to lead in this field and start researching this plant so we can benefit from its full potential. It's not called a 'cash crop' for nothing.

I believe that prohibition clearly is not working in this country, and appears to be doing more harm than good. Let's resolve the prohibition issue so we can create a healthy and wealthy future for Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Please join our conversation by sharing your thoughts and opinions. Good or bad it's just time we started openly and honestly talking about what is going on. We owe it to ourselves and our children to have this conversation.

Sincerely,

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Cheri Hawthorne

If you would like to see your profile here please contact us at letsstarttheconversation [at] gmail [dot] com