Backlash over Pete Evans’ new passion
As Pete Evans wades into the evolving debate around medicinal cannabis, a longtime advocate of the drug has expressed concerns about the controversy that comes with the celebrity chef's involvement.
Lucy Haslam, a campaigner for medicinal usage of the drug, told news.com.au that her involvement with Evans earlier this year led to her being "slammed" by members of the medical community.
Evans is set to appear on Channel 7's Sunday Night program as a "special guest reporter" as the show weighs up the pros and cons of medicinal cannabis.
His involvement has made supporters of medicinal cannabis nervous. They say the celebrity chef poses problems for the cause.
"This bloke is not an ideal spokesman does more harm than good to the cause, [sic]" one man wrote in an advocacy group on Facebook.
"I hate that this idiot is the one advocating this," another woman commented. "Dear Australia, Pete Evans is a national embarrassment."
"Blokes a nut. Not great for the cause, [sic]" another said.
Others felt Evans's involvement would help, as would any publicity for medicinal cannabis.
"Any positive publicity of this miracle plant will help, we need to flood mainstream TV with the positives of this plant," one woman wrote. "Good onya Pete."
Ms Haslam, a founding director of United in Compassion (UIC), Australia's peak medicinal cannabis advocacy body, told news.com.au that Evans contacted her earlier this year and attended events she'd organised as he filmed his cannabis documentary.
"Pete contacted me at the beginning of the year. He'd met a doctor I know from Santa Barbara," Ms Haslam said.
"He came to my symposium and interviewed people for his documentary. I was happy for him to come," she explained, saying she is open-minded to anyone interested in learning about the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
Ms Haslam explained that she later invited Evans to a gala dinner, and as soon as his intentions to attend were made public, she was "slammed" by members of the medical profession.
She explained that about the same time, Evans posted something on Facebook to do with an anti-vaccination group.
"It got very complicated," Ms Haslam said.
She contacted Evans to rescind his invite to the dinner, telling him she was in "big strife" because of the reaction from the medical community.
Evans, who has 1.5 million followers on Facebook and more than 200,000 on Instagram, has courted controversy in recent years by sharing views that contravene medical advice.
Earlier this year, Evans shared a podcast from a prominent US anti-vaxxer, urging his followers to listen to the podcast, which referred to doctors as "prostitutes" and made a number of false claims about vaccinated children.
Evans also referred to types of sunscreen as toxic in 2016 and has made a number of claims over the years about diet and connections to illnesses like osteoporosis.
In June 2018 the Australian Medical Association called for his documentary The Magic Pill to be removed from Netflix following his claims a ketogenic diet could benefit cancer sufferers and those with autism.
Ms Haslam said she held no personal judgment of Evans but found the experience of involving him with her organisation "complicated".
"I'm afraid whatever his intentions are in this space, they'll be misconstrued," she said.
"It would be good to have a celebrity in this space, but Pete invites controversy.
"We already having trouble in Australia getting doctors to come on-board," Ms Haslam explained, saying most advocates want cannabis to be considered a legitimate form of medical treatment.
"If he becomes the face of medicinal cannabis, it's going to invite controversy at a time when we're trying to make people realise it's a valid medicine."
Evans earlier announced he was producing his own documentary about cannabis, part of which he filmed at UIC's cannabis symposium. Ms Haslam said Evans hired his own space nearby and took advantage of a number of experts being in the one place for the documentary.
Ms Haslam has been an advocate for legalising medicinal marijuana for people who suffer terminal and chronic conditions since 2015 when her son, Dan Haslam, went public with his story of using the drug to treat his cancer.
Dan fought a five-year battle with bowel cancer and during that time used cannabis to treat the nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite caused by his chemotherapy.
Dan sadly passed away in 2015, but Ms Haslam has continued her advocacy work, founding the UIC and working to have the drug gain wider acceptance in Australia.
Ms Haslam believes more than a million Australians use cannabis for their chronic pain and other illnesses.
"We're so far behind the world (with this treatment) it's lonely and it's embarrassing," Ms Haslam said.
"Australia is really a laughing stock."
A UIC spokesman told news.com.au he didn't agree with all of Evans' personal views but urged viewers of the documentary to look beyond the host.
"Mr Evans holds a number of views on a range of issues with which we are not in agreement," he said in a statement.
"We nevertheless do not feel it right or fair that we comment on a TV program which we have not seen and which has not as yet even been aired.
"The issue of medicinal cannabis is one that's far more important than any one person - including Pete Evans."
The spokesman said the real issue for advocates were the "hundreds of thousands of sick Australians" seeking to use cannabis that were forced to engage with the black market.
"In light of this we suggest anyone watching the program look beyond the presenter and instead focus on what is significant here - that the public has been cheated when it comes to medicinal cannabis," the spokesman said.