Speaker by Various Artists


The cannabis referendum – a doctor's perspective

by Dr Graham Gulbransen

Cannabis is part of our culture: 80% of adults have tried it sometime. Intuition tells us that legalising cannabis will increase use – science suggests that is not likely. Our Dunedin and Christchurch studies show that cannabis use peaks in our 20s. Older people are less frequent users whether it is illegal or controlled. Those using cannabis now would be the same ones shopping at government regulated stores.

Legalising and controlling cannabis will make it safer for both medicinal and recreational users. Cannabis is widely used as a medicine. Medicinal substances are taken to heal. When I purchase paracetamol from a supermarket and take it for pain, it is medicinal use.

Medicines don’t always come from doctors. Most medicinal cannabis users rely on illegal cannabis rather than prescription cannabis from a doctor. Once it is legalised, many people will purchase cannabis for medicinal use just as they procure illegal cannabis for medicinal use now. Legalised cannabis will be safer because it will be tested, labelled and restricted to those 20 and over.

My interest as a GP and Cannabis Consultant comes from 40 years of questioning patients who tell me that illegal cannabis helps their pain, anxiety and insomnia. They use it medicinally. Cannabis has been used for more than 10,000 years as a healing herb, as noted in ancient texts. Medicinal benefits are confirmed scientifically. My own audit of over 1000 patients found that about 40% reported benefit when treated with prescription CBD, better than many standard medicines.

Of my last 200 prescription cannabis patients, 57 or 29% reported current use of illegal cannabis as medicine at first appointment. Recreational use when younger was reported by 104 or 52% of my patients. Surveys in this country have found that about 10% of adults have used cannabis (illegal) in the past year with 5% of adults stating their use was medicinal.

So why do people choose illegal cannabis when prescription cannabis has been available for five years? Cost and access are barriers. Prescription cannabis is imported as oils or sprays. Patients pay about $250 for a month’s supply of prescription CBD oil, close to $10 per day. There is no subsidy at the pharmacy. Winz provides very limited funding. About 20 Aotearoa NZ companies are licenced to grow and produce medicinal cannabis but the final products are still some time off. We are told they will be cheaper than imported medicinal cannabis. However, patients tell me that it is cheaper to purchase or grow their own for their medicinal purposes. 

Any doctor may prescribe CBD to any patient but most doctors lack knowledge and experience and wont prescribe. GPs are the specialists most likely to support our patients and prescribe. Others, like pain specialists, rheumatologists and psychiatrists, usually say no to patients.

While THC is the euphoriant that gets users high, blending it with CBD eliminates that intoxication. Street cannabis contains  very little CBD. Stronger prescription cannabis containing THC is cheaper and more effective for many conditions but is restricted to non-GP specialists. Specialist GPs like myself would be better placed to prescribe for their patients but this is blocked by the Ministry of Health. If patients cannot get these from GPs, some tell me they will continue to use illegal cannabis.

Patients have been waiting six months for the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme at the Ministry of Health to assess and notify the availability of various blends of THC and CBD that any doctor may prescribe. Patients continue to use illegal cannabis while we all wait.

How does legalising cannabis make it safer?

Cannabis use has a long history and people will continue to use it. As with other consumables, testing for pesticides, heavy metals, fungi etc and standardising for strength and constituents is what we expect. This cannot happen under prohibition.

Prosecuting cannabis users is a failure because many will continue to use it. And they carry the additional stigma of prosecution with subsequent work and travel consequences. Especially for Māori. Most cannabis consumers do so for relaxation and enjoyment, without harm to themselves or others. Some of us chill with a beer or wine, while others safely vape or smoke cannabis – same deal really. As with alcohol, heavy use can be problematic. This is best managed by health services, not by arrest and prosecution. The $200 million spent each year in policing cannabis prohibition could better be spent on treating problem use. Taxes from legal sales would help.

Youth use of cannabis has been decreasing here and in countries where cannabis has been legalised. Do drug dealers check the customer’s age? Government controlled stores would be strictly R20. Mental health risks are greatest for those under 18 with genetic predisposition to psychosis. Those over 20 using cannabis for symptoms of mental illness would be better served at stores where labelling would allow them to choose CBD-dominant cannabis, not available under prohibition.

Cannabis has a long history of use medicinal and recreational use. Prohibition has not worked. It is time to treat cannabis as a health issue and stop pointless and damaging prosecutions.

Vote "No" if you prefer cannabis sales from dealers and gangs with no regard to quality, contamination or customer age. Vote "Yes" if you agree that prohibition is not working and that legalisation will allow control over cannabis sales, whether it be for medicinal or recreational use.


In 2018 Dr Graham Gulbransen opened the first medical cannabis service in Aotearoa NZ. Cannabis Care Clinic is in Henderson, Auckland, providing specialist consultations for legal medicinal cannabis prescriptions. Problems addressed include chronic pain, cancer symptoms, anxiety, chronic insomnia and neurological conditions. Most patients have experienced little benefit or adverse effects from conventional treatment or have been told there are no further treatments. Many report that medicinal cannabis offers symptom relief, improved quality of life and most importantly, restores hope. He has prescribed CBD to 1400 patients with very good outcomes. An audit of his first 400 CBD patients showed benefit for chronic pain and/or emotional distress: British Journal of General Practice Open, 5/2/20.

His part time general practice experience dates from 1983. Much of this work involves assessing and managing addictions and/or chronic pain. He is a FRNZCGP.  Graham completed his Fellowship of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine (FAChAM) in 2008. As an Addiction Specialist he manages problems such as alcohol and drug withdrawal, opioid substitution treatment, medication for chronic pain and he writes addiction assessments.


Lockdown? Day? Whatever the fuck day it is …

by Penny Feltham

I live in Stockport, just outside Manchester. It's 10 minutes by train away, but I’m not sure if the trains are running – and in any case I’ve not actually been in my office in Central Manchester since February 20.

That got complex. I was in Iraq for work and came home in early March with a virus. Just not that virus but they wouldn’t test me because Iraq (you know, right next door to Iran) wasn’t on the WHO list.

So. Context. We live in a suburban semi-detatched house with a garden (big for Edgeley). There’s me. Matt the husband. Oscar the 13 year old kid, two dogs, five rats and a couple of fish. The husband is currently not in paid work. The kid is on Easter holidays. I am still working from home. We are lucky. We don’t live in a one-bedroom flat in a high rise. We have access to a green space. We still have an income. I might be furloughed at work from next week, but will be on full pay.

The main thing we have noticed is that our lives have slowed right down. Little is urgent. Schools are closed. The lack of commuting gives me more time to do the stuff I like doing – listening music, talking to friends. There isn’t that much road traffic and I am happier with the kid being out on his bike though I am having to re-explain to him why he can’t cycle to see his mates. I think he gets it, though the big numbers don’t seem to phase him very much.

As we live on one of the flight paths into Manchester airport, the lack of aircraft has been a definite thing. The boy dog is sad about this as he likes chasing them (I am not kidding). I am enjoying the huge increase in birdsong in our garden.

We’re still doing tabletop gaming via Zoom or Skype. It works, but just not the same. Many overseas Skype calls around games and yesterday Matt was at the usual monthly board game session – via software. No Live Action for a good long while. Maybe not until late August. The urgency to get new kit made for Oscar has fled the building. Life has slowed down …

The panic buying. It was a real thing. We went to the supermarket on the last day of school before home-schooling started. No toilet paper [cos obvs], kitchen roll or tissues. dried pulses, rice, pasta, fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, flour, fresh meat and fish. Apparent aggression in some places including Unicorn in Chorlton – normally a bastion of brown rice kindness and sensibilities. Huge queues to get into the supermarket that I usually shop in. And good-humoured, except when I glared at the guy who got too damn close in the queue.

There has been far more contact between people, either by phone or on social media. Folk checking up on each other generally or sharing dark meme number 9038. Lots of discussion and disgust at the behaviour of some of the Sheeple. My getting angry of the claim of ‘Blitz spirit’ when it never existed in the first place. Going out to clap for the front line workers at 8pm on a Thursday night whilst swearing about the Tories having torn the hellout of the NHS in the first place. Watching the Government swing the blame game onto the Sheeples. "It spread because you wouldn’t self isolate. Not because we fucked up our response for a month … "

Parts of communities really looking after each other. Shopping for house bound folk. Prepping extra meals to share. A great chat with my lovely neighbour from either end on our front path both stopping mid-conversation to admire various dogs on their walks. The guy who knocked on our door asking formoney last night. I refused him money but gave him food. Its all getting a bit medieval and we don’t have a stable or a straw barn to offer him. There is some shitty behaviour going on. The usual thefts, assaults and domestic violence – but that’s Blitz spirit for you.

Manchester is bizarrely quiet. There are few takeaways open in Stockport – many Manchester restaurants shifting to deliveries and collections, but 10 minutes out of Manchester is far too far away. No live venues, but lots of streaming of old gigs or various people producing stuff to be heard and danced to in the quiet of your kitchen.

Radio – which I rely on far more than TV – has also changed. Marc Reilly’s Show (my lifeline) on Radio 6 seems subdued with no live music. In fact, maybe subdued is the word for the past few weeks. My listening habits have got got really weird. Listening to American country music recommended to me by a new friend in Toronto. And I keep finding the Monkees cropping up.

Tomorrow, the schooling wars start anew. Moodle and Teams is being used to teach. Just gotta persuade the 13 year old to not skip off onto YouTube. Sigh. This is the new normal and Gods only knows what is to come.
Never have the media been more important.

Penny, Stockport, April 2020


Locked down in Jersey City

by Mark Anderson

I am a Kiwi living in Jersey City, New Jersey. Jersey City is the second-largest city in the state and is located directly across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan. Locals call it New York’s sixth borough. More than 350,000 New Jersey citizens, including myself, commute to New York daily for work. Like New York, we have been heavily hit by the coronavirus.

In Jersey City, a city the size of Hamilton, we currently have almost 1800 diagnosed cases and 50 deaths – the latest being a revered local councillor. Although the number of cases in New York seems to be plateauing, the number of confirmed cases in New Jersey is on the rise. While we don’t know anyone who has died from the virus, we do know people who have tested positive and we know people who have lost loved ones and work colleagues.

In New York and New Jersey, we are now into our fourth week of lockdown. It has been sobering to see the difference in how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled here in the US compared to back home in New Zealand.

One of the first things I observed upon arriving in the US was the division between federal and state government when it comes to things such as health, education, laws and taxes. This is evident in the conflicting measures most states have taken in dealing with this crisis compared to the seemingly hands-off approach of the federal government. The New Zealand response, with its four levels and precise guidelines, stands in stark contrast to the patchwork of US guidelines. As cases and deaths escalated in New York, we watched agog as spring break college students partied on the beaches of Florida. 

Some of the measures enacted in New Zealand and other countries simply do not wash in a country that values individual freedoms above collective societal responsibility. A case in point being those churches who continue to hold services despite advice from local and government leadership, who are also reluctant to intervene.

The quality of healthcare in the US is not poor – and at more than 14% of GDP spending on it is proportionately much higher than New Zealand’s – but what is poor is the ability of the poor to access. I never realised how much we take our healthcare system in New Zealand for granted, and how expensive it is to access healthcare in the US – even if you do have insurance.

My wife can work from home. I, however, have lost my job and have therefore applied for an unemployment benefit. The wait will be three weeks. Friends who work in the gig economy cannot access welfare at this stage. One friend with no income inquired of her landlord if she could delay paying rent; she was sent an email reply with a list of local homeless shelters. Capitalism rumbles on.

Still, I try to not get under my wife’s feet in our one-bedroom apartment as she works from our dining room table. We go out in masks and gloves and try and keep our social distance – not easy in apartment buildings with shared areas and neighbourhoods of high-density housing.

Amongst our local US friends are three other couples with whom we regularly chat with on Google Hangouts. This week we are having a bake-off. Cookies will be left on stoops and in letter boxes and judging (and drinks and dress up) will be online on Friday night. We’re baking Edmond’s Afghans …  


Les Gray: the man who told the truth

by Paul Shannon

The story of Les Gray, the public sector psychologist who told the truth about his use of cannabis and set off a storm, has a special place in the lore of cannabis reform in New Zealand.

When Paul Shannon interviewed Gray for the 'Dope and Hope' issue of Planet magazine in 1994, it was a decade since he'd first frightened the horses and five years since he'd done the unthinkable and admitted to cannabis use on live TV. As Paul observes, Gray told the story well.

Last I heard, Les Gray was still part of the holistic therapy community in Northland, although his health has been impacted by a stroke. And he still has that jersey.


Thanks to Leo Rae Brown for the typing.


It was April, 1984, at a meeting of the Dargaville PTA, that Les Gray publicly challenged the then-Minister of Education, Merv Wellington, over his banning of all sex and drug education in schools. Since that night, it seems that Gray and the marijuana debate have been inseparable.

Gray was then a psychologist at the Department of Education, so he was qualified to comment on what he saw as a ridiculous stifling of information. He also thought the laws on marijuana were absurd when the health risk was compared to tobacco and alcohol.

Senior police officials were subsequently interviewed on TV's Close Up. They made it plain they were considering action against Gray because he'd admitted usage. But none was taken and Gray thinks the police decided  the best strategy was just leave him alone and hope he would go away. He didn't.

Controversy raged through the media. Gray was sacked by the Education Department and at the same time established as one of the few people actually prepared to stick his neck out on the marijuana issue.

Then, in 1989, Police minister Peter Tapsell suggested opening up the debate on marijuana. Unheard of. You can imagine every detective senior sergeant in the country just shaking with rage, furious that they had a minister who actually wanted to hear both sides of the debate.

But no sooner had Tapsell made this provocative announcement than he boarded a plane for a “research” junket to Scandinavia. In his wake, the story was picked up by the then-new current affairs show, Holmes. Gray was invited to appear, along with Ian Hastings, a former head of the Drug Squad, who was (and still is) active in prohibitionist drug education.

What follows is a story that Les Gray has told many times before. Indeed, he tells it so well we'll leave him to it. He takes up the chain of events with that Holmes show of Tuesday 23 May, 1989.

“The first question on Holmes I saw come up on his cue screen from where I was sitting. It said: 'Have you used marijuana?' He asked Ian Hastings first. He looked all over the room and finally said no. Then Paul asked me and I said to him 'Yes thank you Paul, I enjoy it.' I wanted to admit to usage, crank it up one notch further and be clear that I enjoyed it, which is more than a use and abuse sort of thing.

“I sensed it was more of an inflammatory thing to say – and it was inflammatory for Sergeant Lloyd Harris here in Whangarei, who apparently didn't even see the programme, but heard the other police talking about it in the canteen. He decided off his own bat that he would do me.

“I'm sure that if he'd tried to clear it from the top they would have said no. I've heard since from some sources that are confidential in the police that he got arseholes. Anyway, he took it upon himself to get a search warrant, which he secured on the Wednesday. Then on Friday 26 May, he came and searched our houseboat that we were living on at the time and arrested me.

“Well my partner Pat was furious. She rang the Holmes show and said 'Look, it's all very well for you bastards to ask cheap sensational questions, you don't have to live with the consequences. Les has just been arrested.' They were horrified and immediately flew a helicopter team up. By the time I got released from the police station and came home, the camera crew were there. I said how I'd told the sergeant when he was fingerprinting me, 'Look you come in tomorrow we'll have a joint, you come in the day after, we'll have a joint. You keep coming back and we'll show how ridiculous this bloody law is. You can come and arrest me every day'.

“The Holmes show then interviewed Police Superintendent Wells and it was a lovely little shot because he said 'Oh, you've caught me on the back foot.' He didn't know anything about it. They were very sympathetic to me. The way they edited made me very strong and confident and made the Superintendent look an absolute dork, humming and haa-ing, saying he'd been caught on the back foot.

“The case went to the District Court in Whangarei for a two day hearing. We pleaded not guilty and Judge McKegg made this amazing 12-page finding that it was more in the public's interest that I was honest on that TV programme than to arrest the one individual. He believed that the public good was served by my being honest and dismissed the case.

“Then the police appealed in the High Court. The charge was formally for possession of about 90 grams – our winter stash. They didn't try and get us for supply. This time they won.

“Then we went to the Court of Appeal in Wellington. The three appeal judges couldn't understand why I'd told the truth. One said 'Well … you could've lied.' Another one said 'Well … you could've avoided the question.' And the summing-up judge said 'Well, perhaps he was caught by surprise.' They couldn't appreciate that I'd deliberately chosen to tell the truth!

“So then it had to come back to the District Court in Whangarei in front of the same judge who'd dismissed it in the first place. He'd been rapped over the knuckles by the Court of Appeal, so he was obliged to fine me.

“He didn't even look at me. He didn't give me any opportunity to speak and fined me $100. I came out of the court and a television crew was waiting. I said 'I'm not going to pay $100 to have a criminal record for life. If they think I'm a criminal they can lock me up, I'm not going to pay the fine.'

“We were then waiting to see what they were going to do about it. A journalist who was tracking the story at the time came up to me and asked whether we minded if he checked with the court to find out what they were up to.

“It transpired that some anonymous person in Auckland had paid it. It was just as well because NORML were going to set up a tent camp outside the jail. They were going to raise hell. Someone defused that situation by anonymously paying it. I still don't know to this day who paid it.”

Gray's stand has earned him respect ever since. He finds that in his work as a psychologist he is better able to help people deal with the downside of marijuana. Many of Gray's patients are marijuana users and, if necessary, they feel they can talk to him about it.

“A lot of them use it for relaxation, to enhance their sensations. Most of them just use it for social recreation. Some people do come to me because they've got out of control with it and are using it far more than they want to and they don't want to go for total abstinence, they want to go for more regulated usage.

“Some come to me because they're in deep shit for having grown it and the heavy scenes that take place because of the illegal nature of the drug; standover tactics and things. They're stressed out by things they can't tell the police about and they feel that I'm the only one they can really talk to.

“I know a lot of men who are very violent on alcohol who have made marijuana their drug of choice because they don't get violent. They just go apeshit when they're pissed.”

It's not only in his office that people feel they can talk to Gray about dope.

“You know, I can go into any pub in the country and after I sit there for a while, someone will come up to me and say 'Excuse me, aren't you Les Gray?' And they'll shake my hand or they'll slip me a joint. Sometimes they'll say 'do you want to come outside for a smoke?

“Because of my stance on the issue, people have told me their horror stories of how they've been treated by the police, how they've had their houses ransacked and some of the things the police have done and some of the heavy things that go on. I've lost track of how many people have died because of this law.

“People have been shot, there've been suicides. One guy was electrocuted on top of a power pole because he was growing some plants on top of a power transformer. A cop fell out of a helicopter and died because he got too excited about a patch. So people are dying not because of marijuana but because of the law.”

Living as he does in the hub of the North, Gray is aware of the trouble many smaller Northland communities would be in if not for the cashflow generated by marijuana.

“There'd be a lot of small communities who'd actually be in economic trouble – the local garage, the local supermarket, dairy – they benefit from the cash provided by marijuana. There must be millions in cashflow. A lot of shopkeepers would be in serious trouble if that cash wasn't there. Mind you, even if it was decriminalised now, sure the prices would come down but there'd still be a market for the stuff – everybody can grow their own cabbages but who bothers? And everyone can brew their own beer but not everyone bothers. So there'd be a market for it, but it wouldn't be such a high-priced commodity.

“I think the present law does far more harm than good. I would say this law is the greatest alienator of young people from the police. Over the last 20 years the police have lost a lot of credibility with the younger generation of the way they've gone about enforcing the marijuana laws.

“On one hand the police are calling for greater co-operation, but they're failing by the way they go about enforcing the marijuana laws. If it wasn't for that the police would have a much higher level of acceptance in the community. Many international reviews point out the great cost to society of alienating the younger generation with blatant hypocrisy. They go around shooting themselves in the foot by the way they're enforcing the marijuana laws.”

“This marijuana law makes a mockery of democracy … the very law that you want to debate is used to shut you up.”


Originally published as 'Truth or Consequences' by Paul Shannon in issue 13 of Planet magazine, winter 1994.

Other articles from the same issue issue are available as follows:

Time for a New Deal: 25 years on

Dealer's choice: an oral history


Planet History: Becky Nunes

by Becky Nunes

In this project to periodically republish the most memorable work for Planet magazine, the title I edited – alongside a brilliant, creative group of friends – in the 1990s, I've focused so far on the writing.

But photography was an equally important part of Planet. The large format of the magazine gave photographers, experienced and otherwise, a great canavas for their work, and the editorial philosophy was permissive.

One of the photographers who came into Planet's orbit was Becky Nunes. At the time, I think, she was getting work as a product photographer and she brought the technical skills of that work to what she did for us. She was always a delight to work with; the opposite of a prima donna.

Becky continues to work commercially, but has also developed an amazing portfolio in art photography and film. She's been the head of the Photo Media department at Whitecliffe College since 2011.

These are her words and images below. None of the Hero photographs have been published before (we used another shot by Becky, of Michael Parmenter on a trapeze, to accompany the interview I did with Hero coordinator Rex Halliday). The issue that appeared in, Planet 7, 1992, was dedicated to the memory of Frank Hori Churchward (the father of our fashion editor, Rachael Churchward, who spent his last weeks in the bedroom at 309 Karangahape Road, Planet's office and Rachael and Grant Fell's home) and "AIDS sufferers worldwide".

Thanks Becky. RB


The Minka Firth/Guadalupe cover

I had the privilege of shooting around three covers for the magazine. This was always epic; the physical scale of the magazine cover was huge, and printed in full glorious colour, unlike most of the work inside, thus equal amounts of kudos and pressure. However this image is hands-down my favourite, for several reasons. The main one is that the beautiful woman conjuring up our Lady of Guadalupe is Minka Firth. Minka was a talented photographer, mother and eco-warrior at her very untimely death from breast cancer, and it makes me happy to see her immortalized there.

 The Sony ad

One of the things that was great about the Planet crew was their no-genre-snobbery approach to commissioning and making work. Fashion, product, portraiture, illustrative photo-collage, it was all recognized and celebrated long before the “official” fine art photography world caught on. It was at Planet that I began to work with clients whose advertising dollars supported the publication. However we got to do the ads the Planet way, and at the time this seemed somewhat radical. 

The Hero 2 pictures

Planet was a big, diverse, supportive whanau giving voice to those previously more on the margins. At this time there was quite a public stoush between civic Auckland and what would now be called the LGBTQI community, and Planet gave lots of editorial space to celebrating the latter. Photographing Hero2 was pretty technically challenging; it was practically dark inside the massive boatshed on Princes wharf, and performers swung on trapezes illuminated by glitter balls. Overall though I  remember it as a pretty incredible celebration of freak-flag-flying in the face of bigotry, and a great party.


Planet, along with Murray at RipItUp, gave me the opportunity to indulge professionally in my main passion at that time; live music. I got to meet and photograph lots of talented musicians, but I’ve chosen these two as highlights. Kim Gordon was and still is one of my idols, and even in a mediocre hotel lobby somewhere in the inner ‘burbs she still radiated Riot Grrl power. And the huge talent Emma Paki; her song 'System Virtue' still gives me chills.