Mayell (left) and Gray speaking at the University of Canterbury, October 2019.
|Born||16 March 1982|
Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
|🎓 Alma mater||University of Minnesota|
University of Otago
|Whakamana Cannabis Museum|
|🏛️ Political party||The Opportunities Party, formerly Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party|
Abe Gray (born 16 March 1982) is a New Zealand cannabis activist, politician and founder of the Whakamana Cannabis Museum, New Zealand's first and only cannabis museum. Gray was a University of Otago lecturer and tutor for over a decade before founding the museum.
Gray grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and attended South High School. Gray ran for student president of his high school on a stoner ticket, unsuccessfully, but blames low turnout and students skipping assembly for it. As a teenager, Gray attempted to find new connections to get access to cannabis, so Gray started working at a local head shop. This soon inspired Gray's passion for cannabis, as he would spend his time at the store consuming books on the history and cultivation of cannabis.
Gray started growing weed in his closet, taking classes on plant propagation, learning to clone and tell the difference between strains.
Gray says following the enactment of the Patriot Act “cannabis-smoking hippies were as legitimate a target for the Patriot Act police state as minorities”.
Gray read several articles, in the magazines High Times and Cannabis Culture, about New Zealand's newly elected Green MP Nándor Tánczos and how New Zealand was on the precipice of legalising cannabis. Gray told himself "I'm gonna go to NZ, enrol in a uni that teaches botany, and I’m gonna learn to grow the dankest weed."
Moving to New Zealand and university days
Gray arrived in New Zealand five days after the 2002 New Zealand general election, where the Green Party were no longer in government, meaning cannabis legislation wasn't an option for the foreseeable future. After the Green's failure to make advances in cannabis policy at the 2002 election, Gray joined the Legalise Cannabis Party.
Gray earned a master's degree in Botany from the University of Otago, but was too paranoid about his immigration status to grow or sell any cannabis during his first three years in New Zealand. Despite this, Gray did smoke cannabis and take part in cannabis protests, including two occasions where he led a group who hot-boxed the Dunedin police station at the annual J Day protest march in 2003 and 2004. These experiences helped him realise the strength in numbers and the power of protest.
Abe was involved in a University of Otago club of cannabis enthusiasts, Otago NORML, and was its president for many years. Otago NORML started gathering on the University of Otago Union Lawn at 4:20pm every Friday to smoke together. The club soon became one of the largest on campus, but the university was displeased. Campus security guards tried to forcefully move the group away, causing a backlash among members that made local headlines. The weekly smoke sessions became twice-weekly. The club held lectures, debates, and an entire cannabis awareness week on campus. This caused Gray to become the target of a six-month investigation by the police Special Tactics Group.
Gray was arrested in 2008 by a group of uniformed officers while giving a presentation about cannabis at the university's annual clubs day. Gray was warned police officers were heading his way, but was confident they were not after him so he kept a bag of cannabis in his pocket. But it was for him. Gray was dragged to a police car. An angry crowd followed them and laid down in front of the police cars, and five additional undercover police officers came out to attempt to control the situation.
Green MP Metiria Turei was at another stall and yelled at the officers, demanding identification, and said the police response was over the top. Gray was charged with possession of a pipe, one gram of cannabis and resisting arrest, but was discharged without conviction. The court disclosure documents showed all of his text messages and bank records covering the last six months.
These protests and encounters with the police are covered in 2015 New Zealand documentary Druglawed, which documents the history of cannabis prohibition in the US and New Zealand, outlining political and economic reasons for its prohibition. It argues New Zealand mirrors the USA's war on drugs, and prohibition is failing.
Political life and Cannabis Museum
Gray stood as a list candidate for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in the 2011 New Zealand general election, and served as their deputy leader. Though inspired by Nándor Tánczos, Gray became disillusioned by what he saw as the Green Party's "political posturing" on cannabis law reform. He stuck with the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.
Gray participated in the 2011 "Occupy Dunedin" protest, as part of a worldwide movement supporting Occupy Wall Street. There were more than 100 protesters and 30 tents at the Octagon.
In 2013, Gray opened the Whakamana Cannabis Museum from a Dunedin flat. Gray and other activists hoped to turn Dunedin into a 'cannabis capital'. The museum tells the history of cannabis laws and protests, the biology of the plant, and different ways to consume it. The museum was listed as a guest room on AirBnB, with "awesome queen bed with reading lamps, a bit of closet space, plenty of electricity outlets and a few houseplants," listed on the promotional blurb.
In 2014, Gray contested Dunedin North for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, coming fifth.
In 2014, the Whakamana Cannabis Museum hosted the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party AGM and Gray was elected president of the party. Gray wanted to demonstrate cannabis was a political winner and entice major parties into stealing the policy.
Later in 2017, Gray left his role as president of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and ran for The Opportunities Party in Dunedin North, partly due to a dissatisfied member base which wanted him gone, and partly because he was impressed by TOP's drug reform policy. Gray called on other ACLP members to transition to TOP. Late in the 2017 election, the Greens went all-in promoting their cannabis legalisation policy, ultimately leading to the 2020 New Zealand cannabis referendum, which Gray is convinced would not have happened without TOP’s presence.
In 2018, the museum moved to a high-profile cafe location in Dunedin's main street, Princes Street, and the museum then included a cafe and VIP facilities. Gray appointed himself the curator and lead researcher. Members could pay a fee of $4.20 a week to access a clubroom to smoke in, complete with comfy couches, lava lamps and retro video game consoles. Club members at the museum could bring cannabis to smoke, and could exchange and sell to each other, but Gray was never involved in any sales. While the museum sold cannabis-related paraphernalia, there was no cannabis for sale. The museum had a cafe, High Tide, which sold coffees for $4.20 – a nod to cannabis culture. Comedian Guy Williams visited the museum and documented his visit for a segment on the comedy show Jono and Ben. A cannabis-keen Bitcoin millionaire donated $5000 to provide half-price drinks and food to pensioners. It was later revealed that the person who claimed to be the landlord of the museum's building didn't actually own it, but Gray then managed to lease the building himself off the true owner.
Gray co-founded pro-cannabis group Start The Conversation in 2013, ultimately attracting the support of Helen Kelly (in 2016), Marc Willers, and Lucy Lawless (in 2018). Start The Conversation received a notice from Facebook saying its ad account status had been disabled. Gray alleges the group is a victim of Facebook's strict anti-cannabis stance, and said informed discussion was crucial in the lead-up to a referendum on cannabis.
In 2018, when flying from Sydney to Christchurch, airport customs questioned Gray on wearing a cannabis T-shirt promoting the museum. The official kept probing him about the T-shirt and told him he should not wear it – especially when travelling to New Zealand. Gray said "I felt violated ... to have a pimple-faced Customs kid grilling me about my f...ing T-shirt, it was like a slap in the face coming back to the country."
After University of Otago proctor Dave Scott, a former police officer, entered at least four student flats and removed drug-taking equipment, Gray sought legal advice for a possible private prosecution. Hundreds signed a petition for Scott to resign. Gray said a cannabis supporter known to him had pledged $25,000 to take a private prosecution. The Whakamana Cannabis Museum also offered to sponsor brand new water pipes for the flats.
In 2019, Gray and Cookie Time founder Michael Mayell launched a PledgeMe crowdfunder, hoping to raise $2 million to publicly fund an expansion of the cannabis museum in Christchurch. They raised $214,616 from 299 donations. They were planning on calling it Whakamana, the New Zealand Institute of Cannabis Education, Research and Development with plans of an expanded version of Gray's Dunedin museum, including a hemp food cafe and restaurant, hemp emporium and an alcohol-free plant shot bar. Gray said recent scaremongering from the “anti-cannabis brigade” in response to those plans made it clearer that having somewhere like Whakamana presenting facts was even more critical in the lead up to the 2020 referendum and beyond.
The Christchurch location closed down in 2020, after Gray had to move to Wellington for his wife's job. A planned pop-up in Wellington timed to coincide with the 2020 referendum never materialised due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gray ran for The Opportunities Party in Wellington Central in the 2020 New Zealand general election, coming fourth with 1,031 votes, and led the Yes We Cannabis campaign as a spinoff of Start The Conversation. Gray also served as The Opportunities Party's 2020 cannabis spokesperson, and was on a mission to be "the first Minister of Cannabis". Gray says he supported the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, and believes it was important to include edibles in the legislation to give people an alternative to smoking or vaping. Gray believes a regionalised model to cannabis is worth exploring.
As of 2021, Gray now lives in Auckland, and is currently looking for a retail space to open the fourth iteration of the museum.
Gray said he believes what stops marijuana law reform is that it's a direct challenge to existing power structures. Drug companies are reluctant, on financial grounds, to have laws that allow people to grow "medicine" in their back yards and police would be hesitant to water down laws that give them the power to search and prosecute hundreds of thousands of Kiwis, he says. "All of these barriers exist to change. Even if it seems obvious it should be done for the good of human rights." Gray believes public pressure for change will become more vocal as other countries, particularly Australia, adopt laws allowing marijuana for medical reasons.
In 2016, following Rebecca Reider being allowed to travel through the customs at Auckland Airport with medicinal cannabis, Gray said Reider's success would open the way for others to bring in cannabis.
Gray was skeptical that CBD gel being tested on patients in New Zealand with a specific form of epilepsy would change the mind of the Minister of Health. "The current approach of the NZ Ministry of Health tends to ignore the evidence from people who have successfully used various cannabis products." He added, "My experience indicates that the real problem is not the lack of evidence, but the lack of resources to collect, assess and circulate that evidence in a transparent way and a lack of education of doctors and other medical experts on how and why cannabinoids work and how they can most effectively be used."
In 2018, Gray said New Zealand risks being "completely left behind" if it continues to "drag its heels" regarding ending prohibition of cannabis. He says New Zealand could benefit from an annual $1 billion medicinal cannabis market and an annual $5 billion recreational market if cannabis is legalised. New Zealand is "already missing the boat on getting involved at the ground level with this globally important agricultural commodity". University of Otago's Dr Joseph Boden agrees, saying the data coming out of the American states where cannabis has been legalised has shown that there's a "huge tax take".
Gray stated he agrees that CBD-only products are not terribly effective. “CBD on its own without any THC is the most ineffective form of medicinal cannabis but the most politically accepted, because it’s a single compound that can be easily synthesised and has no psychoactive components. When it comes to medicinal use you need the full spectrum of components to work effectively.”
Gray predicted by 2030 that cannabis will "be as common as it is now, but it won't be as hidden away". Gray expects some cities to push back on cannabis legislation, but believed Christchurch would embrace it. Cannabis cafes would be around, Gray added, but he didn't think they'd be as common as bars.
In 2020, following at least 10 incidents of gang members robbing and assaulting people using Discord to buy drugs, Gray says the issue is an example of harm caused by prohibition of cannabis. "No-one is going to meet someone in an alleyway to buy anything if it is available on the legal market. You can't issue consumer complaints on the black market either ... The other thing with Discord is that it is not how your mum or grandma used to buy cannabis and certainly not me. For young people, they are going to find a way, so we really have to decouple cannabis from the black market to keep them safe."
Gray has lived in New Zealand since 2002 and now lives in Auckland. Gray has a Masters in Botany from University of Otago. Gray has two children and his wife is a surgeon in training.
2014 general election: Dunedin North
|2014 general election: Dunedin North|
Blue background denotes the winner of the electorate vote.
|Legalise Cannabis||Abe Gray||580||1.69||+0.33||172||0.49||−0.08|
|Independent||Adrian Daegal Graamans||106||0.31||+0.31|
|Internet Mana||603||1.72||+1.12[lower-alpha 1]|
|Total Valid votes||34,636||35,131|
2016 Dunedin mayoral election
|Candidate||Affiliation||First Preference||Last Iteration|
|Aaron Hawkins||Green Dunedin||3,108||7.7||+0.2|
|Athold Bayne||Stand up for Dunedin||612||1.5|
|Informal votes||N/A |
2017 Mount Albert by-election
The following table shows the final results:
|2017 Mount Albert by-election|
Notes: Blue background denotes the winner of the by-election.
|Green||Julie Anne Genter||1,564||11.45|
|People's Party||Vin Tomar||218||1.59|
|Socialist Aotearoa||Joe Carolan||189||1.38|
|Legalise Cannabis||Abe Gray||97||0.71|
|Human Rights||Anthony Van den Heuvel||34||0.24|
|Not A Party||Simon Smythe||19||0.13|
|Communist League||Patrick Brown||16||0.11|
|Total Valid votes||13,649||30.00|
2017 general election: Dunedin North
|2017 general election: Dunedin North|
Blue background denotes the winner of the electorate vote.
|NZ First||Warren Voight||1,069||2.89||—||1,899||5.08||+1.67|
|Independent||Adrian Daegal Graamans||71||0.19||−0.12|
|Total Valid votes||36,985||37,385|
2020 general election: Wellington Central
|2020 general election: Wellington Central|
Blue background denotes the winner of the electorate vote.
|ACT||Brooke van Velden||865||1.81||+1.5||2,339||4.86||+4.09|
|Legalise Cannabis||Michael George Appleby||401||0.84||—||132||0.27||+0.7|
|New Conservative||Liam Richfield||401||0.45||204||0.42||+0.35|
|Advance NZ||Rose Greally||108||0.23||103||0.21|
|Total Valid votes||47,787||48,090|
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- Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party
- Cannabis in New Zealand
- NORML New Zealand
- Otago NORML
- The Opportunities Party
- Whakamana Cannabis Museum
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- "Rose Matafeo, Paul Horan and Guy Williams big winners at NZ Comedy Guild Awards". NZ Herald. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
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- 2014 Internet Mana swing is relative to the votes for Mana in 2011; it shared a party list with Internet in the 2014 election.
- New Zealand Today - The Dunnerz Cannabis Museum — comedian Guy Williams visits the Whakamana Cannabis Museum for television show Jono and Ben.
- Whakamana Cannabis Museum to open in Christchurch NZ — Newshub covers Gray's plan to open Whakamana Cannabis Museum in Christchurch.
- STAYING IN A CANNABIS MUSEUM!! Dunedin, New Zealand — popular travel influencer "PsychoTraveller" spends the night at the Whakamana Cannabis Museum via Airbnb. Gray is featured giving her a tour.
- How Abe Gray became New Zealand's 'Gandalf of Weed' — in-depth Stuff.co.nz article of Gray's life story from his high school years to post-cannabis referendum.
- Abe Gray - TOP candidate Dunedin North — Gray's candidate introduction video for The Opportunities Party.
- Druglawed, 2015 New Zealand documentary which covers Gray's activism with Otago NORML and his subsequent arrest. Druglawed documents the history of cannabis prohibition in the US and New Zealand, outlining political and economic reasons for its prohibition. It argues New Zealand mirrors the USA's war on drugs, and prohibition is failing.
- OUSA Pints & Politics 2017 @ ReFuel — Gray at Otago University Students' Association's 2017 Pints & Politics event.
- CANDIDATES101 - 24th August 2017 — Gray at Otago University Students' Association's candidate debate.
- Abe Gray & Lindsay Smith - The Opportunities Party — University of Otago's Division of Humanities interviews Gray and Lindsay Smith on The Opportunities Party in 2017.
- Abe Gray - The Opportunities Party (Wellington Central) — Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association interviews Gray on his 2020 Wellington Central campaign.
- Cannabis Q&A with Geoff Simmons & Abe Gray #2 — The Opportunities Party hosted a questions and answers livestream about cannabis with Gray and Geoff Simmons.
- Meet the Wellington Candidates — The Opportunities Party hosted a "Meet the Wellington Candidates" livestream for their 2020 Wellington region candidates.
- Nightly Interview: Abe Gray — 39 Dunedin Television interviews Gray on his 2016 Dunedin mayoral campaign.
- Dunedin mayoral candidate Abe Gray — Otago Daily Times gave Gray 30 seconds to explain why people should vote for him for mayor.
- ‘Millionaire’ offers $25,000 for private prosecution against Otago Uni — RNZ's current affairs programme Checkpoint interviews Gray on him considering a private prosecution against University of Otago vice chancellor Harlene Hayne on behalf of the student body over the proctor’s decision to unlawfully enter a student flat and confiscate bongs.
- I Am Nature-with Abe Gray, Cannabis Expert -2016-02-03 — YouTube channel "I AM NATURE" interviews Gray.
- Chatting With Aotearoa's Cannabis Museum Curator | #FriendlyAussiePodcast Episode 8 With Abe — Gray is interviewed for the Friendly Aussie Podcast on his story, and brief talks about the museum.
- The Whakamana Cannabis Museum | #FriendlyAussiePodcast Episode 9 With Abe — Gray is interviewed for the Friendly Aussie Podcast on the 2020 cannabis referendum, the Whakamana Cannabis Museum, and his history of activism.
- Kiwis Legalising Cannabis | #FriendlyAussiePodcast Episode 10 With Abe — Gray is interviewed for the Friendly Aussie Podcast on politics of New Zealand leading up to the 2020 cannabis referendum, the landscape of "weed culture" in the 21st century, and other content.
- Cannabis Reform with Ross Bell and Abe Gray — Gray interviewed on 95bFM about cannabis reform.
- Abe Gray and the Colonial Legacy of Cannabis — Gray is interviewed by 95bFM about the relationship between cannabis and New Zealand's colonial history.
- At the Museum: Whakamana Cannabis Museum — Gray is interviewed by RNZ's Karyn Hay.
- LEGALISING CANNABIS IN NEW ZEALAND | INTERVIEW WITH ABE GRAY — popular travel influencer "PsychoTraveller" interviews Gray on his activism and the museum.
- Abe Gray (NZ Pirate Party) Speaking at Skynet Demonstration, Dunedin, NZ (27/8/11) — Gray, representing the Pirate Party of New Zealand, speaking at the 2011 Dunedin demonstration against New Zealand's copyright laws.
- Claps for The Opportunities Party UBI — Gray speaking about a universal basic income at a 2017 debate.
- Michael Woodhouse gets owned on Drugs — Gray debating Michael Woodhouse on workplace drug testing at the Unions Otago Dunedin North Candidate Meeting. Metiria Turei joins in.
- Opening Speech North East Valley Candidate Meeting — Gray's opening statement at the 2017 North East Valley Dunedin North Candidates Meeting hosted by the Valley Project.
- Not a Reality TV Show — Gray's closing speech on how the election is not a reality TV show.
- Don't waste your candidate vote Dunedin North! — Gray making an argument on what a wasted candidate vote is.
- otagonorml on YouTube — Otago NORML's YouTube channel, which features talks and debates from guests such as Green MPs Metiria Turei and Nándor Tánczos, videos of Otago NORML's protests, and a podcast featuring Gray called the Dunedin Cannabis Club.
- Arrest of Abe Gray by New Zealand Police at Otago University — clip of Gray's 2008 arrest at University of Otago.
Media related to [[commons:Lua error in Module:WikidataIB at line 466: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).|Lua error in Module:WikidataIB at line 466: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).]] at Wikimedia Commons
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