But with upper house seats in three states and unprecedented diversity on the cross-bench around the country, the LCP is hoping form will finally meet function. It tabled the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis) Bill 2023 in three state parliaments simultaneously on June 20, a first in legal history.
The bill seeks to amend the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 to make it legal for adults to possess, cultivate (a maximum of six plants) and share small quantities of cannabis for personal use.
It is substantially modelled on ACT laws, which came into effect in 2020 making the ACT the only jurisdiction where it is legal for personal use. It is still illegal to sell it, expose children to cannabis or grow hydroponically in the ACT, with a two-plant per adult limit.
Cannabis used to be legal: it was only outlawed because of strategic alliances with Britain and the United States at the United Nations.
Australia’s first cannabis seeds came ashore with botanist Sir Joseph Banks. Marked “for commerce”, they were intended for industrial hemp production. Banks had acquired seeds from India (to which cannabis is native) for use in rope and sail production, a happy side effect being it soon became Australia’s favourite smoke.
It wasn’t until prohibition of the 1920s things took an authoritarian turn, and it was all on the basis of an outright lie.
Cannabis was a last-minute addition in the prohibition. The request was by the Egyptian government, which claimed “chronic hashism” was causing widespread insanity. The motion was backed by Turkey.
It was an unfounded, untested claim, which the United Nations immediately ratified, thereafter grouping cannabis with opioids.
In response, Australia’s federal Health Department Director General Dr John Howard Lidgett Cumpston advised the Prime Minister’s office that opium was the only drug of concern, and there was no need to outlaw cannabis.
But the damage was done, giving law-and-order politicians, police and, ironically, organised crime itself, currency they would otherwise never have had.
The Ronald Reagan-style “just say no” PR rhetoric soon did its work and, in 1928, Victoria became the first state to legislate against recreational cannabis use. NSW followed suit in 1935 and it is now illegal everywhere except the ACT.
Ironically, the US made medicinal cannabis legal in 1996 and legal recreational use legal in 2012.
The hard line on both medical and recreational cannabis in Australia has become a tool for social control: its continued illegality based on the “it’s an opioid” lie becoming an international joke.
Even where legal in Australia, accessing medical cannabis remains rigged against the patient. Apart from draconian driving laws, medical cannabis is expensive and not on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, ensuring yet again that those in most need get the least help.
(There is no such problem accessing PBS-listed opioids, even in the midst of a Big Pharma-GP driven global prescription opioid crisis.)
The prescription painkiller market in Australia is worth more than $700 million annually. Crackdowns on doctors who write too many opioid scripts have only caused further harm to vulnerable patients, now unable to access either opioids or cannabis for debilitating, chronic, medically diagnosed pain.
If the current trilogy of legalise cannabis bills do succeed, they will not only again make legal history, they will make a lot of very sick people very happy.