By Jorian Gardner
The instant success of the Legalise Cannabis Party in Queensland and WA should come as no surprise to many within the “legalise” movement. In fact, it should come as no surprise to many outside the movement either, particularly those in political circles.
As jurisdictions around the world move to create a legal cannabis market or reduce or delete penalties around possession currently on their statute books, the fact that a party has cannabis as its number one core policy is seen by many as a no brainer, especially given the public’s support for the issue.
Victoria is Australia’s most progressive state. In the last eight years, most notably through the urging of progressive crossbench MP’s like Fiona Patten of Reason and Andy Meddick of the Animal Justice Party, Labor has undertaken major legislative and social policy changes. Safe Access Zone laws around abortion clinics; Assisted Dying legislation; Sex Work law reform; Significant LGBTIQ rights enhanced; A big investment in public and social housing; The closure of coal-fired power stations and the adoption of net-zero emission targets; Medicinal Cannabis laws. The list goes on.
The recent Inquiry into the Use of Cannabis by the Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee was a great step forward. The substantial report illustrated the need for a rethink of the states’ policy regarding the drug and an overwhelming amount of submissions called for legalisation in some form. Victoria Police, notably, dug their heels in as expected, opposing changes and taking a hardline stance against a move to legalisation, as did some health groups. But it is worth remembering that the police aren’t there to make the laws – they are there to enforce them. If we change out of date legislation, they will have no choice but to follow.
For those not schooled in the ins and outs of a Parliamentary Committee (and I am guessing that is most of the population!), the Victorian Government has six months to respond to any final report handed down by a committee. Whilst I note some within Labor have outright rejected the suggestion of legalisation, let’s just see what their official response is. I expect there may end up being some glimmer of hope there.
The timing is excellent as well. The government’s response will come well before the Victorian election in November of 2022, making cannabis a real, live issue at the polls. The elevation into the WA Parliament of Legalise Cannabis Party members Sophia Moermond and Dr Brian Walker, is a cause for great celebration for everyone in the community.
But it’s also a lesson for all.
Given the political conditions in WA, where Labor holds a thumping constitutional majority, even with two LCP MP’s pushing the cause, hopes for legalisation to be on the agenda had cold water thrown on it by Premier Mark McGowen almost instantly after the election.
The two new MP’s in WA now have four years to make their case. They can use the resources that an MP has to initiate inquiries, attempt amendments on the floor of Parliament and meet with the most senior people in the state on a regular basis to remind them of what LCP party members want.
But to do that those two MP’s – and for that matter any future LCP MP elected to any other Parliament in the country – have to deal with a plethora of issues that have nothing to do with the core ‘legalisation’ policy. The legislation they face will span the spectrum of political issues – from Indigenous Affairs to Ports and Shipping policy; Regional Infrastructure investment and Pandemic response. To achieve the greater policy outcome MP’s will have to be constructive and hard-working whilst also keeping an eye on the prize which may take many years to achieve.
The lesson for Victoria is – play the long game.
Cannabis law reform is within our reach, but much like Pantene famously told us to remember when we dye our hair with their product: “It won’t’ happen overnight, but it will happen.
Jorian Gardner is a journalist, political consultant and former Chief of Staff to Fiona Patten MP. He is a member of Legalise Cannabis Victoria