In a statement issued April 16, the Australian Greens unveiled a “National Plan to Legalize Cannabis for Adult Use.” This is the first time a party with a substantial presence in Parliament — nine Senate seats and one in the House of Representatives — has embraced full marijuana legalization in Australia.
In the statement, posted to the party website, Greens leader Richard Di Natale says: “The war on drugs has failed. Governments around the world are realizing that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents. It’s time Australia joined them and legalized cannabis for adult use.”
“We need to get real about cannabis,” he continued. “Almost seven million Australians have tried or used cannabis socially but right now just having a small amount of cannabis in your possession could get you a criminal record. Cannabis accounts for most illicit drug arrests across Australia and each year cannabis consumption and arrests are growing. Prohibition has failed. Using cannabis remains illegal, but this has not stopped Australians from using it.”
The proposal calls for using tax revenues from cannabis sales to fund drug treatment and education programs. An Australian Cannabis Agency would be created to oversee taxation and regulation of the industry. Cannabis would be sold only by licensed shops, and only to those 18 or over. All sales staff would be required to undergo training in “responsible sale of cannabis.” Advertising would be banned, plain packaging mandated and a “big cannabis” industry avoided by promotion of small-scale production. Up to six plants could be grown for personal use.
Di Natale, himself a former doctor, called for an approach that treats “drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue.” He said that his party’s plan to legalize marijuana in Australia “will reduce the risks, bust the business model of criminal dealers and syndicates and protect young people from unfair criminal prosecutions.”
He wrote: “As a drug and alcohol doctor, I’ve seen that the ‘tough on drugs’ approach causes enormous harm. It drives people away from getting help when they need it and exposes them to a dangerous black market.”
The statement cited a recent survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that found 35 percent of Australians have used cannabis. There were 79,643 cannabis-related arrests in the country in the 2015-16 period, up 6 percent from 2014-15.
Di Natale encouraged multi-party unity around a common-sense strategy. “I call on political parties of all stripes to join the Greens in committing to just legalize it,” he said.
The proposal won immediate support from the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, whose president, Dr. Alex Wodak, stated: “Banning cannabis hasn’t reduced its use or availability yet it has distracted police from following up more serious crimes, harmed a lot of young people and helped make some criminals rich. Regulating cannabis will give government more control and increase government revenue, which can be used to fund drug prevention and treatment.”
Wodak’s foundation and the Greens have teamed up to launch a Just Legalize It website to promote the idea.
However, it might not be easy to get the two big blocs that dominate Australia’s parliament on board. These are the ruling center-right coalition bloc (made up of the Liberal Party, which is actually conservative, and the National Party, which is more conservative) and its main opposition, the center-left Labor Party. Neither of these have ever broached cannabis legalization.
However, both these blocs supported a program initiated in 2016 to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Radio Australia reported in January that the country’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry is about to get a big boost, with the federal government to allow exports of cannabis-based medicines. Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government will introduce legislation to lift current restrictions on cannabis exports.
“We would like to be, potentially, the world’s number one medicinal cannabis supplier,” Hunt said.
These ambitions seem to reveal a contradiction between a corporate model advocated by the dominant parties, with user access restricted to approved medical patients, and the broader but more grassroots paradigm promoted by the Greens.
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