NSW Greens to Legalise Recreational Cannabis, and Overhaul Drug Driving

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NSW Greens Cannabis

The shift towards legalising and regulating the adult use of cannabis is picking up momentum across the planet.

And this global trend incorporates a few key truths: that the plant is fairly innocuous, criminalising people for its use is redundant and there are great societal benefits in legalising.

Colorado and Washington were the first jurisdictions to abolish cannabis prohibition in late 2012.

Today, 21 US states have legalised recreational cannabis, as have the nations of Uruguay, Canada, Thailand and Malta, with the courts in South Africa and Mexico having greenlighted adult home use.

And on Wednesday, the NSW Greens foreshadowed that cannabis law reform is likely on its way for this state, as the progressive party released its plan to legalise the plant, which entails all the trimmings that ardent cannabis advocates assert must be a feature of a just regulated market.

“More than one in three of us have used cannabis in our lifetimes and more than two million Australians use cannabis each year,” NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann told the press. “Prohibition has well and truly failed and governments all around the world are finally accepting this fact.”

Indeed, as historian Dr John Jiggins recalls, the first Australian health director general Dr John Cumpston rejected the international call to ban cannabis under the 1925 Geneva Convention, telling the then PM that the readily available substance was already regulated and posed no real harms.

Prioritising the green

Faehrmann told Sydney Criminal Lawyers the day prior to the Mardi Gras parade that she’ll be moving to introduce legislation seeking to legalise and regulate recreational cannabis as a priority, after the state election later this month.

“It’s my hope that the Greens will hold the balance of power in the next parliament so that we can make Labor, if they do form government, act on drug law reform,” continued the lead candidate on the NSW Greens upper house ticket.

The Greens drug law reform spokesperson further points to a number of beneficial reasons to legalise the herb. Chief amongst them being that at present people are continuing to be arrested and, in some cases receive criminal records, over a drug that’s less harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures outline that over the five years to December 2021, cannabis consistently accounted for around 50 percent of all possession incidents recorded by the NSW Police Force, with 16,000 to 18,000 locals unnecessarily falling foul of the law annually.

“The Greens bill would ensure that cannabis products are labelled in terms of the strain and levels of THC and CBD,” Faehrmann said in a statement, adding that, unlike drug dealers, a regulated market would mean stores would be required to refuse sales to those under 18.

Just legalise it

The NSW Greens cannabis policy sets out that the party “will create a regulated cannabis market in NSW to reduce the harms from cannabis use, while also preventing the overcommercialisation of the cannabis market by large corporations”.

Also on the cards is a provision that will allow households to grow up to 12 plants of their own, whilst cannabis social clubs will also be legalised. These must involve at least five people, who will have permission to grow up to 12 plants each or collectively, the club can produce up to 200 plants.

Health warnings and the content of cannabis products will be printed on the packaging and advertising such goods will be banned. And as elsewhere around the world, those convicted of cannabis-related crimes will have those convictions expunged.

Another key feature of the Greens policy is the establishment of a NSW Cannabis Authority that will be charged with ensuring that smaller cannabis operators aren’t overshadowed by large corporations. And the authority will also issue cannabis licences and monitor the marketplace.

Impairment not presence

NSW Greens MP for Ballina Tamara Smith has raised the ongoing issue with drug driving in relation to prescribed medicinal cannabis users, which is an issue of particular concern in the NSW Northern Rivers region, as those on the medication can still have their licence suspended for use.

Right now, in all jurisdictions around Australia, besides Tasmania, the users of cannabis medicine can be pulled over by police, tested for drug driving and turn up a positive reading for THC, the psychoactive component of the plant, and then have their licence suspended and receive a fine.

This is in stark contrast to all other prescribed medicines. And another clear injustice is, unlike random breath testing which tests for levels of alcohol in a driver’s system to ascertain whether they’re too intoxicated to drive, drug driving only tests for the mere presence of a substance.

This means that prescribed medicinal cannabis users can lose their licence for driving with traces of their medication in their system, even when they’re not impaired. This is the same for recreational cannabis users. And the NSW courts have found that people are being charged days after use.

The NSW Liberal Nationals government has repeatedly voted down legislation that would provide those using legal cannabis medicine on prescription with a defence against drug driving. However, a Labor government in Victoria is currently seriously considering passing a similar law in that state.

So, with a Labor government looking likely for the next NSW parliament, the Greens are taking drug driving reform one long-called-for step further, as the party is prioritising a complete overhaul of the NSW drug driving regime, so that police will test for impairment rather than traces of a substance.

The green rush is coming

“The Greens are a grassroots democratic party, and we are discussing our priorities for any possible balance of power scenario with members,” said NSW Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong, in terms of an election outcome for her party that would be favourable in achieving cannabis reform.

“We have a very clear timeline for this and will be informing the community what we will be negotiating in any balance of power arrangement well ahead of when they come to vote on 25 March.”

Another benefit that follows on from cannabis legalisation is economic. Over 2020 in the States, the cannabis market pulled in between $54.6 and $66.9 billion, while the first eight months of legal cannabis in Canada saw an additional $8.26 billion added to that nation’s GDP.

And it’s estimated that nationwide legalisation in this country could raise $28 billion in revenue over the period of a decade.

Decades of cannabis prohibition have failed,” said Adam Guise, NSW Greens candidate for Lismore. “Continuing to criminalise cannabis users empowers the police to persecute particular populations and communities, like Nimbin.”

“Drug law reform can’t happen without political action and only by electing MPs who want to change the currently broken and unjust system will this occur.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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