New Zealand's First Cannabis Grower Is Being Considered for Sainthood
Mother Suzanne Aubert grew and sold medical marijuana in the 19th century.
Published on January 12, 2018

Mother Suzanne Aubert, center; photo in public domain.

New Zealand's first known cannabis grower is being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church, the New Zealand Herald reports. Suzanne Aubert, better known by her cleric name Sister Mary Joseph, came to New Zealand in 1860 and founded the Congregation of the Holy family to teach English to Maori children. Mother Aubert worked tirelessly to help others, establishing two hospitals, nursing, teaching, growing and selling fruit, and raising homeless children.

Unlike other Europeans who scorned aboriginal medicine in favor of Western medicine, Aubert studied traditional Maori medicine and incorporated it into her healing practice. Aubert also recognized the medicinal properties of cannabis, and is believed to be the first New Zealander to ever cultivate the plant in the country. The prospective saint created numerous medicinal formulations, many of which contained cannabis extracts, and sales of these popular products provided the majority of the income for her convent.

Even though these cannabis-based medicines were perfectly legal in the 19th century, Mother Aubert would be at risk of being thrown in jail if she were selling these medicines today. Like most other English-speaking countries, New Zealand criminalized recreational cannabis use in the 1920s, although medical cannabis was available by prescription until 1965. In 1975, the Misuse of Drugs Act officially made possession of any amount of cannabis for any purpose a crime punishable by up to 3 months in jail or a $500 fine, and marijuana cultivation punishable by up to 7 years in prison.

Fortunately, the tide of support for medical cannabis has been growing over the past several years, and a bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to legalize cannabis for medical use has recently been proposed. This bill would establish a program allowing patients suffering from chronic pain, life-threatening illnesses, or other qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis-based treatments at local pharmacies. If passed, it could take as long as two years for the program to get underway, but for immediate relief, the bill would also decriminalize cannabis use for patients with less than a year to live.

The process of Mother Aubert's canonization began back in 2010. The pope has declared Aubert as “venerable,” which is the first step in the process, but the Vatican requires proof of two miracles in order to declare Aubert a saint. It remains to be seen whether or not being the first New Zealander to grow medical cannabis qualifies as miraculous or not.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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