The Turnbull government passed legislation in February 2016 that allowed for the establishment of a legal supply chain of cannabis medicines. This showed a willingness amongst the highest levels of authority in this country to publicly acknowledge that cannabis is a beneficial plant.
But, the fact that four years on most of the estimated 100,000 patients who use this medicine locally still can’t get a prescription with a readily affordable price tag, displays a somewhat unexplained unwillingness to let the majority reap the benefits.
This is especially so when, as Australian historian Dr John Jiggens has pointed out, cannabis was the most widely used medicine a century ago. And it was only due to a last minute decision to add it to a list of substances during 1925 Geneva Convention deliberations that saw it demonised.
Meanwhile, around the globe, governments are sharing the plant’s benefits with their citizens. Canada rolled out cannabis for any use in October 2018. While in the US state of Colorado, cannabis is a billion dollar industry, with its accompanying tax being funnelled into health and education.
A dab hand
Long-time medicinal cannabis advocate Deb Lynch plans to set things straight in Queensland, as she’s running in the seat of Mermaid Beach in the 31 October state election on the ticket for the newly formed Legalise Cannabis Queensland Party (LCQ).
Running candidates in a number of seats, LCQ wants to see cannabis legalised for all uses. And there are many, when – besides medicinal and recreational – you factor in the industrial applications of hemp, which can replace many environmentally detrimental products widely used today.
And Ms Lynch understands the issue of cannabis inside out. As the current president of the Medicinal Cannabis Users Association of Australia (MCUA), she vocally campaigns for the rights of patients, who can often find themselves on the wrong side of the law just for seeking relief.
Deb also used to be a part of the Canna Nannas: a group of grandmothers who toured the east coast of Australia, conducting workshops outlining how the plant can be used both medicinally and nutritionally.
The tide’s direction
As for those that might think this country is not ready for legal cannabis, they might be surprised to learn that not only is the medicine legal nationwide, but since 31 January this year, the personal possession and recreational use of the herb has been legal in the ACT.
Indeed, many in the community seem to still be unaware that in the capital territory it’s completely fine to not only possess cannabis in personal amounts, but it’s even above board to grow up to two plants at home.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Deb Lynch about the details of how a legal cannabis market could operate in her state, the environmental uses of the plant that would help save the planet, and some of the other political issues she’ll be prioritising once she’s voted into state parliament.
Firstly, on 18 June, the newly formed Legalise Cannabis Queensland Party announced it will be running candidates in the October state election.
Deb, you’re going to be running for the party in the seat of Mermaid Beach. What’s the party proposing? And how do you propose a legal cannabis system would operate in your state?
Full legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis is our ultimate aim. First up, we want a moratorium on all arrests of end users at least until a bill can be introduced.
It’s early days, and our policies are still being developed, but some possibilities that have come out of our discussions so far include:
A unified independent cannabis authority, which would include end users and those with experience in cultivation and production in the decision-making process to oversee the implementation of new policies.
Then a home grow option with certain restrictions, possibly a minimum of 6 plants per individual. And there should be indoor and outdoor grows permitted.
For bona fide medical users, there should be a possible allowance of up to 10 plants depending on how much oil can be produced from one plant for the amount of medicine required.
There should be a review of current drug driving laws, with a view to introducing new laws for impairment and not mere presence. And historical cannabis criminal records should be expunged.
A cannabis state-based tax for small to medium commercial operations could be introduced. But that shouldn’t be overtaxed, so it’s a burden and restrictive for small business owners.
We certainly do not want big international corporations monopolising the recreational industry, as they have in the medical market.
We will be considering scaled tax levels. Incentivised subsidy for start-ups and not-for-profits, as well as homegrow options, possibly with a annual small license fee.
There’s the option of licensed dispensaries, which would be supplied by smaller boutique growers and/or co-ops or social clubs, similar to the Spanish model. There should be an amnesty period for current illegal growers to transition to licensed producers.
And lastly, there should be independent testing of product publicly available for producers, growers and consumers. This should be reasonably priced and easy to access. And there should be a removal of restrictions, so as to allow labs and scientists to perform these tests.
So, over the next few weeks, we will be consulting with our members to seek their opinions and suggestions that will eventually be used to flesh out our framework.
The personal possession and use of cannabis have been legal in the ACT since the end of January. And since it was legalised down there, nothing much has been said about it. What would you say this indicates?
It tells us that the overturning of this law is not a priority. The federal government could pass legislation specifically to overturn the ACT laws, but it has been silent on that front for almost six months now.
And overturning it would be an unpopular move by an unpopular government. According to a Roy Morgan online survey in October last year, more than three-fifths of Australians – 62 percent – don’t want the federal government to overturn the ACT law.
At present, there are some MCUA members that have to attend court over growing cannabis to produce their own medicine, as they haven’t been able to legally source it any other way.
What do you think about people now facing charges in one part of the country, while in another jurisdiction people can legally grow up to two plants at home?
We have six members facing court this month for self-supply of medicine. Their stories are similar.
The majority are senior or elderly citizens treating themselves because they simply cannot afford the cost of prescription products.
God only knows how much this will cost the taxpayer. We can’t find that out anywhere.
But when you consider the cost of four to six police officers on a raid, the dogs, follow up interviews and preparation of paperwork, police chasing up testing and routine procedures, like photographing and fingerprinting, as well as appearing in court, one can only hazard a guess of the costs involved.
What we do know is illicit drug policy costs around $500 million per year to administer in Queensland. And 92 percent of national arrests are of cannabis consumers, with Queensland consumers accounting for 29 percent of that total.
Of course, it makes us angry that a postcode can make all the difference between being a criminal or not. Our frustration makes us more determined to bring about change.
The lack of insight of our politicians and their stubborn unrelenting prohibitionist stance is costing this state a motza. How does the community benefit from such a huge outlay of public funds?
Support for legalisation in Queensland is growing. We saw over 13,000 people put their personal details on a parliamentary petition and over 600 Queenslanders joined a political party in a couple of weeks.
So, one can only imagine how many more, who are currently gagged by employment contracts, will vote for cannabis law reform in the privacy of the ballot box.
It’s time both sides of Queensland parliament had a good look at the harm their policies create for individuals and the cost to the state’s economy. This needs to be turned around
These days, protecting the environment is at the top of many Australians’ concerns. LCQ also has a focus on the uses of cannabis that are environmentally friendly.
What are some of the ways the plant can be used that cut down on the detrimental impact our society is having on nature?
We would be looking at encouraging growing hemp as a renewable and sustainable agricultural resource.
And encouraging manufacturing industries to use hemp in a variety of ways to create jobs and prosperity and replace jobs in regional areas in particular where mining is a big employer.
Hemp is a soil cleaning crop. It uses far less water and pesticides in the growing cycle, than cotton and sugar. It has the capability to draw tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Many things can be made from hemp, including plastics, which break down very quickly in comparison to petrochemical plastics.
As a building material, it is strong, light and fire-resistant. How many homes could have been saved during the bushfire disaster earlier this year?
Hemp needs no insulation and can store atmospheric carbon in the fabric of a building.
We’d like to see hemp as an agricultural industry that could overtake sugar and mining in our regional areas.
Grants and incentive payments for new and innovative manufacturing is on our agenda as well.
Hemp is a food source in its vegetation and its seeding stages, and it’s great for the prevention of ill health.
Henry Ford made his first car from a hemp-based plastic material and ran it on hemp-based fuel.
So, encouraging hemp production will be high on our agenda. We want to see our kids and grandkids have clean air to breath and clean water to drink.
Local historian Dr John Jiggens suggested candidates run together under the Legalise Cannabis Queensland Party. He’s going to be running in the seat of South Brisbane. How many LCQ candidates do you plan on running?
At the moment, we’re still in the process of getting many things sorted. We have had quite a bit of interest expressed, but it remains to be seen how many we will have in the final line up.
So far, we have had about ten people in the city and regional areas with their hands up. We have been inundated with offers from people to volunteer and help with campaigns.
We hope to run candidates in a good number of electoral districts.
You’ve also indicated that while the cause of cannabis unites the party, it’s not the only issue that’s important to you. What are some of the other issues you will be focusing on?
Firstly, housing. Although I was classed as being at the top of the emergency social housing waiting list, my hospital rehabilitation stay was lengthened, as I had nowhere to live.
The hospital was going to begin charging me 80 percent of my meagre disability support pension to remain, so I was forced to couch surf for two months, before moving into a private rental with my daughter and granddaughter.
Paying $600 a fortnight in rent is crippling when the pension is only around $1,000 a fortnight.
Meanwhile, the Queensland government has stated that they will build 240 new social housing homes.
This is a ludicrous number, when there are 39,000 on the waiting list. There are 11,000 construction workers that have lost their jobs during COVID-19. Those workers could be gainfully employed building the required housing needed.
In the future, hemp construction products grown and processed in Queensland could be a more cost-effective alternative for the building sector and generate employment across the board. A whole new sustainable industry is waiting to be tapped.
I’ll also have a focus on health, with administrative bungles and wanton waste high on my list.
I had a tumour left untreated in my kidney by Gold Coast University Hospital due to an administrative oversight and watched the waste of resources – both in people and products – whilst being an inpatient for almost a year.
But this pales in comparison to the number of public hospital patients that are begging for legal prescriptions and being denied them.
Children have died. It doesn’t get any more urgent than that. How many more kids will die or be maimed by pharmaceutical drugs, because Queensland Health refuses to prescribe cannabis as a mainstream treatment if requested?
Having been a phlebotomist at a major Brisbane hospital, I have had the opportunity to see the waste of public funds and mismanagement, from both sides of the coin.
Then there’s policing. Aside from the waste of half of the policing budget on primarily cannabis users, youth crime has skyrocketed.
There was a time when proactive programs were being used to deter future crime in our youth. I witnessed one of these crime deterrent programs in action during the 1980s. But where are these programs now?
Whilst violent crimes involving victims escalate, victimless cannabis crimes gobble up the majority of the budget.
How is this good governance? Independent auditing of all public service departments and their operations needs to be addressed
And another priority of mine is corruption. Recently, during the Jackie Trad school principal debacle, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) released a 178 page report into how the selection process for the principal went “off the rails” through the unethical behaviour of public servants.
CCC chair Alan MacSporran QC said this investigation uncovered “some very worrying and disappointing practices” during its investigation.
In my humble opinion, corruption in government and public service departments is born from abused “loopholes”.
The one job of government is to oversee the running of our state and public services for the people. I don’t believe this is currently the case. Political megalomania and avarice are rife.
And lastly, Deb, you’re running for the Legalise Cannabis Queensland Party. But, usually, as MCUA president, you’re campaigning specifically for better access to legal cannabis medicines for patients.
How will your party be prioritising the needs of patients who use cannabis medicines? What sort of reforms are you aiming to bring about for them?
The MCUA has always been about changing the law to allow people to grow their own if they so choose. So, this is a natural progression for the association.
With so many patients being forced to use illegal means to obtain relief from suffering, legalising cannabis is the only real alternative for many of us.
We don’t fear the plant. We understand that the gateway theory and the mental health card played by politicians are propaganda.
We aim to break down stigma and show the public that cannabis users are mums, dads and ordinary people – no matter what their reason for using cannabis.
We find that countless people who have been labelled “recreational users” actually use it as therapy for stress, depression and/or pain relief.
When the federal government changed the Narcotics Act, we have no doubt now that their main incentive was to create a medical export industry to replace the ailing poppy industry.
The government used a key cannabis advocate to dissuade the ALP from having an inquiry into the best way to introduce medical cannabis and then let the whole patient community down with a system so tied up in red tape and costly that it made access a postcode lottery.
This discriminatory policy has resulted in criminalising good, innocent people like our members facing court this month.
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.