Legalise Cannabis Victoria are a political party here to do two things: legalise cannabis and chew gum — and they’re all out of gum.
Although they might sound like a party purely designed to give voters a bit of a chuckle at the polling booth, the issues they’re campaigning on affect millions of Australians.
Criminal justice reform, drug driving laws, and medicinal cannabis expansion — not to mention the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars up for grabs through reform of our cultivation laws around the growing of hemp and cannabis products – are all pertinent issues to voters around the country. The party hopes it can affect change in these and other areas through its members and its candidates.
They’re also not as much of an outside force as you might expect. In 2021, Legalise Cannabis WA managed to win two seats in the WA Legislative Assembly and secured 3.3% of the vote in the Federal Election earlier this year.
“Legalise Cannabis Victoria is looking to really build on the success of the parties interstate and the momentum we saw at the federal election,” Tom Forrest, who is standing for the party in Eastern Victoria, told The Latch.
“Our goal here is to get seats in parliament and work with other parties that share common values and policies with an agenda towards legalising cannabis.”
Forrest, a Churchill Fellow, knows more about the cannabis industry and the plant itself than virtually anyone in this corner of the planet.
He’s currently the co-founder and Cultivation Director for cannabis company Puro NZ, the co-founder and Managing Director of Indicated Technology in Victoria, and the Communications Manager for Stealth Garden Wholesale in South Australia.
It’s fair to say he’s passionate about the cause.
“We have the potential to really stand out on the worldwide platform as cultivators of premium cannabis commodities, but with the current regulatory burden, our industry is not able to grow as it should,” he said.
Legalise Cannabis Victoria are standing candidates in all legislative council regions and in three legislative assembly seats.
Earlier this month, Party Secretary Craig Ellis stated that concerns around the way cannabis is regulated in this country are now mainstream issues.
“The major parties like to imagine that cannabis is a fringe issue, but there’s around two million Victorians who have consumed it in their lifetime and more than 600,000 in the last 12 months,” Ellis told Cannabiz.
Here’s what you need to know about the party hoping to do even better in the upcoming Victorian state elections.
Who Are Legalise Cannabis Australia?
Although they appear to have sprung out of the ground from nowhere, the party has deep roots. Founded in 1993 as the ‘Help End Marijuana Prohibition’ Party, or HEMP Party, the organisation rebranded in 2021 to avoid the discriminatory connotations of the term ‘marijuana’.
They became the Legalise Cannabis Australia Party at the federal level, with state-level outfits in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. They are, of course, headquartered in Nimbin.
Legalise Cannabis typically fields candidates in multiple seats during both federal and state elections and their members come from a diverse range of backgrounds including agriculture, mental health, criminal justice, and the medicinal cannabis industry.
Ellis confirmed to The Latch via email that the party is “approaching” 10,000 members nationally and that 1,500 of those are in Victoria.
What Are Legalise Cannabis Australia’s Policies?
Obviously, they want to legalise cannabis. However, the implications of that go far beyond just being able to smoke a joint in the privacy of your own home.
“What we aim to do is start to peel back that hangover of prohibition,” Forrest said.
“So, allowing homegrown cannabis commodities, allowing and encouraging for cheaper medical cannabis to become available to patients.”
Since 2016, when access to medicinal cannabis in Australia was granted under federal law, there has been a 61,000% increase in the number of patients accessing medicinal cannabis.
According to the latest figures from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, some 841,000 people have been granted access to medicinal cannabis in Australia. That’s 3.24% of the country.
Those people are typically paying an average of just under $300 per month for treatment for a range of chronic issues spanning pain, mental health, and fibromyalgia. Understandably, there’s a big push within the community to bring those prices down. But it’s not the biggest concern amongst patients.
“We want to change the driving laws to make cannabis like other medicines that, if people are prescribed it, they’re able to drive safely,” Forrest said.
“So we want to change those laws to look towards impairment and not just the presence of a cannabinoid in someone’s system.”
There have recently been a number of legislative pushes to reform drug driving laws at the state level to stop medicinal cannabis patients from being criminalised for driving with the presence of a banned, yet prescribed, chemical in their system. The most recent of these, sponsored by the Greens, was shot down in NSW Parliament just a month ago.
At the same time, restrictions on how cannabis can be grown, the types of controls necessary for agriculture, and restrictions on who can participate in the industry are also major problems, according to Forrest.
“We want to relax the rules around what hemp farmers can do to utilise the whole plant that they’re currently growing and not be as restricted,” he said.
Cannabis prohibition has been well-documented to affect certain communities more than others. Typically, it is poorer, non-white, less empowered demographics that suffer the brunt of criminalisation.
“We definitely want to look towards expunging convictions for those that have been unfairly criminalised for cannabis crimes, particularly those minority groups that are over-represented in our justice system,” Forrest said.
In short, the party argues that legalising cannabis could bring a wealth of benefits to Australia.
“Our overarching goal is being more sustainable in our approach to managing our country,” Forrest said.
“We want to save our planet and we really believe that hemp and cannabis have the ability to disrupt conventional agriculture to provide new economic stimulus to create jobs for different regions, and in doing so, provide a more sustainable path forward for rural and urban communities.”
How Likely is That Legalise Cannabis Victoria Will Succeed?
“It’s really obvious that legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis is inevitable,” Forrest said.
“You never know until everything is counted, but at this stage where we’re confident we’re making movements in the right direction.”
Indeed, the ACT has already gone one further and decriminalised the use of a number of popular illicit drugs through legislation that will come into play next year. Currently, residents of our nation’s capital can enjoy up to 50 grams of dried cannabis without fear of criminalisation.
Whether that will happen in other states and territories in the near future is up to debate. Victoria’s Labor government recently quashed an inquiry that recommended the legalisation and regulation of cannabis and Western Australian Premier, Mark McGowan shot down any hopes that legalisation would happen in his state after the success of the Legalise Cannabis Party last year.
Despite this, the party are hopeful they can change hearts and minds at the political level.
“Based on different trends that we saw interstate, and in the federal election, and knowing the level of support that we have already and the number of people that use cannabis in Victoria, really gives us confidence that we’re going to get a good amount of traction in this current election,” Forrest said.
“The more votes we can get, the more seats in parliament we can actually achieve which will really give us a bit more leverage to fast track some of these policies.”
“There is momentum in other states and if we start to piggyback that momentum here in Victoria, but with the added clout of having the Legalise Cannabis Party really knocking on that door, then we should be able to see change happening sooner rather than later.”