Should Australia Legalise Cannabis?: An Interview with Michael Balderstone, Leader of the HEMP Party

Poppy Morandin and Jimmy Singh.

 

As the one-year anniversary of marijuana’s legalisation in ACT and New Zealand’s upcoming referendum on legalising cannabis loom, it prompts consideration surrounding legalisation of the plant Australia-wide.

On October 17, New Zealanders will vote in a referendum that will determine whether the growing, sale and consumption of cannabis for recreational use will be legalised.

“New Zealand is a close call when you look at the surveys, so who knows where it’s going to go, but whichever way the vote goes, it will be highly significant for Australia.” commented Michael Balderstone, leader of the HEMP Party.

The proposed legislation would enable individuals to grow their own plants or purchase up to 14 grams of dried marijuana per day from a licensed vendor.

The use of the drug would take place in ones residence or at licensed premises.

Other factors include, the legal age for purchase and consumption will likely be 20-years old, and that users may share it with their friends, but would not be allowed to send it via post or sell to others.

“To many people it’s not a simple yes or no to legalising weed, it’s a yes to a set of rules, so there’s a lot of people who may not vote for legalisation because it’s not ‘free’ enough for example,” explained Mr Balderstone.

“On the whole, the prohibition lobby, and the pharmaceutical business in particular, is a really powerful and influential opponent,” he continued.

Currently medicinal marijuana is legal in both Australia and New Zealand.

“It is a fantastic medicine, it is an anti-inflammatory, which means it’s a great pain reliever. It works well for epilepsy and Parkinson’s. It is great for relaxing people due to its anti-stress, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties.” explained Mr Balderstone

“Many politicians are now saying that they’ve ‘legalised’ cannabis, but the statistics show that only 3% of medical cannabis users are getting it legally because of factors such as price, where its imported from, and none of its organic. The black market is often more viable and with better quality for them.”

In September last year, the Australian Capital Territory legalised the possession, use and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis, effective as of 31 January this year from the amendments to the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 (ACT).

In the ACT if you are aged 18 and over, you can:

  • possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis or up to 150 grams of fresh cannabis,
  • grow up to two cannabis plants per person, with a maximum of four plants per household,
  • personally, use cannabis in your home.

However, it is an offence in the ACT to smoke or use cannabis in a public place, expose a child or young person to cannabis smoke, grow cannabis using hydroponics or artificial cultivation or where it can be accessed by the public.

It furthermore remains an offence to sell, share or give cannabis as a gift to another person, and to drive with any cannabis in your system.

“It’s quite limited what’s happening down there in the ACT, you’re not allowed to buy seeds, you’re not allowed to grow indoors, which is a cruel blow in the Canberra climate – but it’s a start,” observed Mr Balderstone.

“We know people in the ACT use cannabis. We want to encourage people to get the support they need through our health system and not be forced through the justice system.” states the ACT Government’s website.

“The whole thing is a health issue – nothing to do with being a criminal., agreed Mr Balderstone.

Whilst concerns were voiced in regards to the radical reform, ACT Police have reported that there has not been a rise in drug arrests or drug-driving charges.

“Drug driving is the biggest issue for cannabis law reform at the moment and is probably the most vicious weapon the prohibition lobby have had. We urgently need a proper impairment test, rather than utilising the presence of THC in the system as the basis for a drug driving offence.” explained Mr Balderstone.

In NSW, pursuant to section 10 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW), possessing a prohibited drug or prohibited plant is a crime which carries a maximum penalty of up to 2-years jail and/or a $2,200 fine.

A prohibited drug means any substance, other than a prohibited plant, specified in Schedule 1.

A prohibited plant means a cannabis plant cultivated by enhanced indoor means, or by any other means, or any growing plant of the genus Erythroxylon or of the species Papaver Somniferum, Papaver orientale or Papaver bracteatum.

Marijuana is included within Schedule 1 through reference to cannabis leaf, cannabis oil, cannabis resin, and cannabis plant including those cultivated by enhanced indoor means.

Alternatively, if the offence involves cannabis leaf, NSW Police are empowered with the choice to give a warning without charge, to an eligible offender who is in possession of 15g less of cannabis and admits to having in their possession for personal use.

Furthermore, individuals will be ineligible for a caution if they were involved in other criminal charge(s) during that time, had previous criminal record relating to drugs, violence or sexual assault; and received a caution more than twice.

This option is labelled the ‘Cannabis Cautioning Scheme’.

Click here for more information on the law and penalties on possession cannabis in NSW.

“Policing in New Zealand has been quite different to that in NSW, the police in New Zealand over a year ago decided of their own accord to not prioritise cannabis busts, so the arrests fell in half in a year for cannabis offences. This is the opposite of what is happening in New South Wales.” Mr Balderstone contended.

Advocates for legalisation have proposed that the financial benefits of legalising cannabis could aid the budget deficit.

“Australia is in its first recession in three decades. Cannabis is a million-dollar industry. It’s time to #LegaliseIt. Creating a regulated legal market for cannabis is our way out of a recession and the failed war on drugs. And the time to act is now.” stated The Greens shortly after the recent federal budget.

“There’s several states in America that are banking on legalising weed as to get out the COVID-19 sparked recession. There’s not millions but billions of dollars in cannabis. Colorado has made one and a quarter billion dollars in tax in 8 years of being legal. There is so much money to be made and so much money to be saved including in relation to policing, court costs and jail.”responded Mr Balderstone.

“If we implemented a legislation model where we license small growers, which is happening now in a few places in America, people can earn a living and pay tax – There are thousands of jobs waiting to happen on that basis, we’ll make sure it’s all through a dispensary, all quality tested, all checked for any bad chemicals or mould.” he continued.

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