The NSW Greens are set to introduce a private member’s bill within 100 days post-state election that could see recreational cannabis legalised for adult use in NSW during the next parliamentary term, which is a move that an increasingly large percentage of the community would like to see happen.
The bill would legalise and regulate the plant, so it would be available retail, but at the same time, it will keep the substance out of the hands of large multinational companies, taking more of a co-opt approach under the governance of the to-be-established NSW cannabis agency.
For those individuals who prefer homegrown, the progressive legislation will also allow for the cultivation of up to six plants. There will be strict controls over people under 18 buying it. And the public will be able to smoke cannabis wherever its currently permitted to use tobacco.
And if you look at the outcomes cannabis legalisation has had in jurisdictions like the US state of Colorado – where the plant has been available retail since 2014 – increased tax revenue only benefits the community, while the burden on the criminal justice system subsides.
Criminalising family and friends
When asked why the time is right to legalise it, NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge replied, “Well, why not a decade ago when it comes to cannabis? We know that roughly a third of NSW residents have tried it at one point. The thought that one third of our residents are criminals is ridiculous.”
According to the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, almost 35 percent of Australians have used cannabis at least once in their lifetimes, while close to 11 percent had used it over the previous 12 months.
And the 2016-17 Illicit Drug Report outlines that 77,549 cannabis arrests were made nationally over 2016-17. And of these arrests, 91.2 percent were for personal possession and use, meaning over 70,000 Australians were busted for simply using a drug that’s legal throughout Canada.
“It’s a drug that’s relatively low harm. And the best way that we can minimise the harm, and also minimise the damage done to society by leaving it as an unlawful drug, is to regulate and licence it,” Mr Shoebridge told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “And that’s what our plan involves.”
Reaping the benefits
“This bill has a number of unique features,” Shoebridge continued. “The first is that the production of cannabis will be controlled by cooperative and non-for-profit ventures. This bill will exclude Big Pharma and Big Tobacco from having access to the market.”
An additional benefit is the revenue the regulated market will bring. A licensing fee will provide the NSW government with around $100 million in revenue. And when this is added to GST and money saved via the justice system, Shoebridge estimates the industry will bring in $200 million a year.
The NSW Greens recommend this revenue be invested in schools and hospitals. The party wants $75 million invested in drug and alcohol treatment, especially in rural and regional areas where services are scarce, and $25 million in prevention and harm reduction programs for high schools.
Reducing societal harms
Legalising cannabis will also eradicate the negative impacts prohibition creates. “It empowers organised crime and bikie gangs who can profit from the black market,” Shoebridge set out. “Any policy that encourages criminal elements is a bad public policy.”
And the Greens justice spokesperson said having cannabis available retail will take away some of the Russian roulette that occurs now, as consumers have no idea of the quality, strengths and containments the black market product they’re buying contains.
“People would know what they’re putting into their bodies, know the concentration of the product that they’re using, and know for certain that it’s not going to have harmful contaminants,” Shoebridge said, adding “that’s one of the key benefits in regulating”.
A global movement
Despite the US leading the global push for drug prohibition, pot is now legal for pleasurable use in ten of its states, along with the District of Columbia. Michigan was the last state to legalise in November last year, while cannabis is also legal in the world’s fifth largest economy, California.
In Colorado, the regulated cannabis market has been lauded. It’s now a billion dollar a year industry. Last year, it raised over $266 million in revenue and since its inception, it’s brought in close to $950 million in taxes. And this money has been funnelled into health and education.
Trudeau ran for Canadian PM on a campaign ticket that included cannabis legalisation and as of last October that’s a reality nationwide. The Canadian government’s stated aims in legalising the plant were to displace the illegal market and reduce its availability to youth.
While in September last year, South Africa’s highest court upheld a lower court ruling that found the criminalisation of cannabis was unconstitutional. And this effectively legalised home cultivation and use across the country.
In line with community values
“When we first introduce the bill, we can expect opposition from both the Labor party and the Liberal National party,” Mr Shoebridge said. “However, we know for a fact, that sensible bills to legalise cannabis have majority support within the community.”
The Greens MLC explained that the party’s intention is to refer the legislation to a cross party committee, where they can demonstrate to the other parties that there is indeed, broad support for cannabis legalisation, as well as “acknowledgement that the war on drugs has failed”.
Currently, there’s a cannabis bill before an ACT parliamentary committee that has support from both Labor and the Greens in-principle. Tabled by Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, the bill would see the legislation of personal possession and use, but not the establishment of a retail market.
“Legislative reform that promotes safety, reduces crime and produces revenue for the state government should be a no-brainer,” Mr Shoebridge concluded. “That’s what this bill does. And that’s why we continue to be advocates for cannabis law reform.”
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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.