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Helen Kelly flooded with New Zealander of the Year nominations

Of the 185 nominations submitted for the 2017 New Zealander of the Year award, nearly half of them have gone to former president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and medical cannabis advocate, Helen Kelly.

The former union leader says it is 'outrageous' people are denied the legal right to use medical marijuana. Source: Breakfast

Ms Kelly was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in February last year with the bleak outlook she had about seven weeks to live.

Former union leader explains why she's breaking the law and using medicinal cannabis. Source: Sunday

But 18 months on she is still alive and trying to change the government's stance on cannabis-based medical products which are all illegal at the moment except for Sativex.

In a statement this afternoon, organisers of the NZOTY awards confirmed Ms Kelly had received 90 nominations.

Other top nominations included recent silver medallist and former Olympic champion Valerie Adams, New Plymouth's mayor Andrew Judd and Hurimoana Dennis - the chairman of Te Puea Marae which has cared for homeless people this winter.

Ms Kelly has put her support behind a cannabis referendum as well as a euthanasia campaign this year.

"I'm living, not dying, and you know I'm fighting as I did in my job for human rights in this country - I think we've got a long way to go," she told ONE News.

Nominations close on September 30 with a shortlist of 10 candidates to be considered for the award to be announced in December.

Recent New Zealander of the Year winners include Richie McCaw (2016), Sir Stephen Tindall (2015) and Dr Lance O'Sullivan (2014).