In a sign that the global trend towards legalised cannabis markets is likely to hit Australian shores in the not-too-distant future, the Legalise Cannabis WA (LCWA) Party took out two Legislative Council seats in the 13 March Western Australian state election.
Running candidates in most upper house seats, Legalise Cannabis WA only registered as an official party in early February. Yet, Sophia Moermond took out the seat for the South West region, while running mate Dr Brian Walker grabbed East Metro.
The party ran on a platform that includes establishing a legalised and regulated cannabis market to be overseen by an independent authority, with options for homegrow and co-ops. Historical criminal records should be expunged, and drug driving laws overhauled to test for impairment not presence.
The cannabis climate
While most Australians are aware that states in the US have legalised cannabis – New York became the 17th last month – it still goes relatively unrecognised that as of 31 January 2020 the personal possession and use of cannabis has been lawful in the ACT.
Commentators agree that the lack of attention Canberra’s legal status has garnered is proof that ending prohibition won’t see the sky fall in.
Indeed, on the one year anniversary of the reform, it was revealed that the major change has been more people seeking treatment as they’re no longer admitting to a crime if they do so.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to LCWA MLC Sophia Moermond about the Australian first her party pulled off in the recent state election, how she envisions a legal cannabis market will operate, and the next step for her party now they have a presence in parliament.
The newly formed Legalise Cannabis party managed to secure two seats in the WA upper house in the March state election.
Cannabis parties have been running in various Australian elections for years now, but this outcome is a national first.
What would you say this result is telling us?
It’s a very young party, and we didn’t have a huge amount of time to campaign and create awareness around us.
But our message was very simple: legalise cannabis. And that resonated with a lot of people.
One reason why it resonates is that the boomers are now getting to an age where they’re suffering pain – lower back pain, arthritis – and they’re looking for natural solutions.
They went through the Woodstock era, so they’ve had exposure in the past and are quite willing to try it again.
Generally, in countries around the globe, about 25 percent of the population have used cannabis. And that’s quite a large part.
So, those people over here want to see it legalised, so they have more freedom around using it recreationally.
So, what sort of system of legal cannabis will you be advocating for?
The American system is capitalist in style, which doesn’t have a lot of benefits for end users.
I’ve come across data that suggests people over there are still using illegal cannabis because it’s cheaper than buying it at stores.
So, the cost needs to be a factor in helping to take the criminal element out of the industry.
Any system of legalisation that’s going to be acceptable for the Australian public needs to have some really good harm minimisation systems in place.
So, using the regulation systems that we’ve already established around tobacco and alcohol will make it more acceptable.
We will have to make it difficult for anyone who’s underage to access it. And people also need to understand that cannabis is mainly harmless. It doesn’t lead to violence and people can’t overdose on it.
And lastly, Sophia, now you and Dr Walker are in parliament, what’s the next step from here? How are you going to bring about cannabis legalisation in your state?
We have a Labor heavy government, and they mightn’t be on our side in regard to recreational use.
So, we need to clearly present the pros and cons, along with outlining harm minimisation strategies and providing data from other countries to support our position.
One obvious benefit is reduced costs around policing. Those police resources can be redirected towards more vital areas.
A major thing we will have to do is reduce the ignorance around cannabis. A lot of people still believe it can bring on psychosis or it’s addictive.
That’s not the case. Those who do have difficulties with it often have issues around trauma underlying that.
An important aspect will be having good systems in place to capture those people having mental health issues and provide adequate care with options to detox and access to rehab.
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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.