battle of the bills

So, it’s an interesting time to a stoner in Australia right now. The Legalise Cannabis Party just introduced a bill on a state level to decriminalise possession and growth of weed for adults and allow them to gift the plant to friends. The Greens are also introducing a different bill to federal parliament next month to legalise cannabis altogether, around the country. I don’t really know the first thing about politics, and most politicians would be in my nightmare blunt rotation, but I do like Rachel Payne and David Shoebridge.

This week, I was lucky enough to speak to both of them (albeit briefly and I accidentally tried to Facetime David mid-call as he ate his lunch). I don’t have a background in journalism, but I do care about legalising weed, so I appreciated the fact they gave me their time and patience to discuss their approaches. While the two bills have a lot in common in that they prioritise the agency and safety of those most affected by the prohibitionist drug laws, they do split in terms of their approach.

Rachel, who is the MP for the Victorian Legalise Cannabis Party, spoke about her party’s plan to take a more moderated approach, starting first with decriminalisation of adult possession and allowing for the growth of 6 plants which are able to be gifted. This would protect those most affected by current legislation. She spoke to the fact that Indigenous women are the most over-represented group in the prison system, and a recent report confirmed the fact that Indigenous Australians are less likely to be given a warning when caught with weed. She also discussed the reality that medical prescriptions can be astronomically expensive and are not an option for people who suffer with illnesses or conditions that prevent them from working. So, being able to grow one’s own cannabis is often the only way to manage pain, meaning relief comes at the price of safety.

The Legalise Cannabis Party doesn’t want to overwhelm an already hesitant government with a bill that’s too aggressive. We know the reasons for legalisation are overwhelming, beyond social justice and basic dignity for people who use the plant, there’s also billions of dollars to be made. Not only by redirecting the huge amounts of money spent annually on arrests and persecution for cannabis possession, but also from the tax that could be made in a regulated market. In what feels like an economic crisis, it seems like a no brainer.

There’s also concerns about public health and the link between cannabis and psychosis, although studies continuously show there is no link. Also, if public health is such a big concern, what about booze and durries? While there’s risks with overdoing anything, a regulated market would allow for people to access accurate information and more quality, consistent product.  

Back to the bills. While the evidence and public support is overwhelmingly positive on both sides (just look at the comments on Sky News reports – I only went there for research purposes), state and federal leaders just don’t seem keen. Don’t worry, I am also screaming inside. However, that’s exactly why Rachel’s party is staging their approach, toe-in-the-water style, so they can build trust and comfortability before going for a fully legalised model. It’s pragmatic and much more likely to actually work. 

Another big concern of the public are the driving laws. Rachel’s party is pushing for changes, and there’s some hope a trial will be implemented soon to test for impairment, not presence, but nothing is confirmed. While I didn’t touch on in with David, he has mentioned in other interviews and is on the same page.

The second bill comes from David Shoebridge and the Greens. They’re skipping state parliament all together and going straight to the top. They’re taking their bill to federal parliament and are pushing for a regulated market, which would protect those who are most vulnerable, but also take money out of the illegal market and put it into the economy. They would create a regulatory body, hundreds of stable jobs and bring Australia up to speed with the rest of the world. It’s ideal and reflects what most of us know to be true. But, and I hate to say this, will it actually pass?

The Legalise Cannabis bill will be debated at the end of the year, and the Green’s bill will also take some time to be discussed, but they both shared ways we can become involved in the meantime. If you have personal stories about cannabis and how’s it’s positively affected your life, or how the current legislation has negatively impacted your life, send them to Rachel. Parliament responds to real stories, I guess they’re human after all. David’s party will be touring soon, so you can stay up to date on what’s happening and get involved in discussions. I think this is a time to be loud and to advocate for these changes. It’s easy to feel as though it’s out of our hands, but the government should represent the people, so let’s make it clear what we want.

So, do you think either bill will work?

(Image: The Fight/The Fall Painting, Russell Oliver)