Legalise Cannabis — the party that does what it says on the tin when it comes to policy — have launched a joint push to legalise the illicit drug in three states today.
Legislation has been simultaneously introduced by members in Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia to create an adult recreational market for Australia’s most used illegal drug.
NSW Legalise Cannabis MP Jeremy Buckingham has said, “This Bill is a nationally coordinated, modest, and responsible first step toward the legal regulation of cannabis.
“Our framework for regulation focuses on responsible adult use, maintains protections for children, and ensures better public health outcomes.
“It’s time to take cannabis supply and quality control out of the hands of organised crime and make the needs of the community, patients, and consumers a priority.”
Rachel Payne, Legalise Cannabis Victoria MP, said, “This Bill actions sensible and meaningful reform to end the criminalisation of people who consume cannabis. It’s time our governments reformed outdated laws, in line with community expectations.”
It’s a big push for a small party and the first time legislation has been jointly submitted to three state parliaments.
Legalise Cannabis have been making increasing waves at successive federal, state, and territory elections, but few would be able to tell you a lot about them.
So, here’s what you need to know about the party that could change Australia’s cannabis laws forever.
Who Are the Legalise Cannabis Party?
Legalise Cannabis started life as the Help End Marijuana Prohibition or HEMP Party in 1993. Their founder, Nigel Quinlan, ran as a candidate under the name ‘Nigel Freemarjiuana’, a name that was later deemed to be suitable to be added to the electoral roll by the Australian Election Commission.
The Party is suitably headquartered in the town of Nimbin in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, famous for hosting the annual MardiGrass festival.
They are a single-issue party, focusing their efforts entirely on the legalisation and regulation of cannabis. The party’s main aim is to have cannabis treated and regulated in the same way that alcohol and tobacco currently are.
In 2021, the party voted to change their name from the HEMP Party (the word ‘marijuana’ having been concocted in the US to marginalise Latino people) to Legalise Cannabis.
They have affiliate parties in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria.
Legalise Cannabis has seen some success over the past few years as cannabis prohibition becomes a growing issue in mainstream consciousness. In 2021, two Legalise Cannabis candidates were elected to the WA Upper House, and in 2022, two were elected to the VIC Upper House. In March, Buckingham was elected to the Upper House in the NSW Parliament.
Despite being a minor party, Legalise Cannabis verges on balance-of-power status in VIC. The Andrews Government has been noted to have sought their support in getting the upcoming state budget passed.
Legalise Cannabis Australia
So, what’s the plan?
Tom Forrest, Co-Founder and Director of the New Zealand medicinal cannabis farm Puro, stood for the party in the 2022 Victorian local election. He told The Latch that Legalise Cannabis have a good roadmap for future policy and intends to use its leverage to make it happen.
“They want to see reform of the driving laws, they want to see some level of decriminalisation, which is what this personal adult use cannabis Bill pushes towards, and they want to see a functioning adult-use market in the long term, as well as the enabling of the hemp industry,” Forrest said.
The Bill, entitled the ‘Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis Bill 2023’, would make it legal for adults in NSW, VIC, and WA, to grow up to six cannabis plants in their own homes. It would also allow people to be in possession of cannabis, use cannabis in their own homes, and even gift small amounts of cannabis to friends.
The plan is broadly similar to current laws enacted in the ACT in 2020. However, Forrest describes these Bills as more of an evolution of the laws in Canberra.
“It’s a similar trajectory, but it’s more towards personal use decriminalisation and taking the criminalisation of cannabis out of the equation.”
In Canberra, people can grow two plants at home and possess up to 50gs of dried cannabis, but the plants must be outdoors and not have a combined weight of more than 150gs. It’s a difficult thing to police.
“In my mind, it’s taking steps towards treating bud like beer. You can have a liquor license, or you can start with some homebrew. If you progress to a commercial scale, then you go through the liquor license process.
“The idea is that we can grow six plants at home, and we can share and gift cannabis, in the same way that we can brew up 20 litres and pour a beer for a mate.
“We’re not setting up commercial cannabis factories here; we’re just looking at it allowing people to be self-sufficient and share some of their produce with their mates or someone that may need it medicinally.”
Will Australia Legalise Cannabis?
Of course, the Bills, as the Sydney Morning Herald puts it, “are doomed to fail” if they’re not supported by the major parties. The Greens have long made efforts to reform Australia’s cannabis laws. But with red states almost wall-to-wall, it will require a shift in thinking on Labor’s part to get this through.
As we’ve written elsewhere, NSW Premier Chris Minns has previously spoken in favour of cannabis legalisation. However, since taking office, he’s walked that back and said the state needs a ‘drug summit’ to rethink all of its drug laws. No date has yet been set for this, and the current Bill is likely to be seen as premature by Labor.
In VIC, recent progress has been made, with the help of Legalise Cannabis MPs, to reform the drug-driving laws to stop medicinal cannabis patients from being penalised for using their prescribed medication. Premier Andrews, who is expected to announce his retirement soon, may not see further change as a priority and has consistently pointed to the scientifically grey area of cannabis use and its association with schizophrenia as a reason to block legalisation.
WA is a slightly different story. Long-standing premier, Mark McGowan, was vehemently against cannabis legalisation and the ruling Labor party have been burned on that particular issue in the past. However, the new premier, Roger Cook, has spoken about his cannabis use in the past but has said he is not open to supporting this legalisation.
Forrest paints himself as an eternal optimist and believes that the timing is now right for these Bills to become law. However, if they fail to do so this time around, he argues that there is a groundswell of public support, favourable scientific research, and changing global perspectives that make the shift inevitable.
“I think as boomers adopt medicinal cannabis, and as a younger generation comes into voting age, we’ll start seeing more and more of a push in the direction of a complete legalisation programme,” Forrest said.
“You just need to look at the economic benefits. Look at the billions of dollars of revenue generated in Canada compared to the eight billion dollar black market cannabis industry here.
“In Canada, cannabis is bringing in revenue and tax, and creating jobs and growth. Here, the black market is not creating jobs in a way that’s constructive for society like a good, well-considered legal framework could be doing”.