NL: Okay, so Stage 1 basically mirrors the ACT experience and fixes a couple of glitches that are evident in that jurisdiction. Next cab off the rank is Stage 2 which looks to be covering social clubs. What’s a social club? What does a social club look like in the cannabis space?
CE: A cannabis social club (or CSC) can be structured as a co-operative. The regulatory framework for co-operatives already exists in Australia and could easily accommodate CSCs.
NL: It sounds like a social club stops well short of a commercial model, is that right?
NL: Why’s that? Surely a commercial model would be more wide-reaching? Why did you land on social clubs as your next step?
CE: Dozens of jurisdictions overseas have taken the step of legalising cannabis. Some of them have moved directly to commercial models, it can take years for the bureaucracy to catch up with that leap and it has in some places gotten into a right mess – the result is that there is a conservative push-back. We are starting to see that in places like Thailand and New York. We don’t want to make the same mistakes here in Australia. Done properly the more modest step from legalising personal use and home-grow to social clubs can be achieved without reinventing the wheel and without giving anti-cannabis crusaders ammunition to wind back everything we are fighting for.
NL: Okay, so that’s the ‘why’ of social clubs. Can we just go back a bit, what does a social club actually do?
CE: As I say, a CSC can operate as a co-op. The Legalise Cannabis Party’s namesake policy is underpinned by a balance of two of our core values – individual freedom, and reducing the black market. Stage one of our policy, released last month, addresses the fundamental principle that responsible adult use of cannabis shouldn’t be a crime. It empowers the individual. Stage two makes a couple of very important steps forward on both fronts. A CSC is an important instrument in that it frees up access to Stage one of our policy for those who can’t utilise it themselves. You have a big backyard and you can grow cannabis whenever you like after Stage one becomes law, but not everyone has a backyard.
NL: You’re talking about renters?
CE: Yes, renters could have trouble utilising Stage one, but for that matter anyone living in a unit or built-up area might find it difficult. The chronically ill and the elderly might also have difficulty in accessing the benefits of Stage one. And, there are some people who can’t keep plants alive no matter how hard they try. They just don’t have green thumbs. We are talking about a large proportion of the population here. Because they can’t grow themselves they may still need to rely on the black market. A CSC co-operative will grow collectively for members at a secure, licensed location. As a not-for-profit, its main revenue source will be from membership fees. The CSC exists for the benefit of its members. There is no profit motive, and this will give it an edge over the black market.
NL: I see what you mean by a balance of core values. An extension of individual choice from stage one, as well as cleansing the entire industry of that nefarious element.
CE: That’s the plan. The CSC model opens up access for all Australian adults to responsibly source their cannabis from a legal, not-for-profit entity, and that takes them off the customer list of illegal operators. Further, because it doesn’t strive for a profit margin the product a CSC can produce and distribute securely to its members should be cheaper than alternatives. That opens up the benefits of Stage one to everyone including those who need cannabis for medicine but can’t afford to access it through the current channels. This is a very important outcome from the Party’s perspective. All adults should be able to access cannabis – not just the wealthy.
NL: And as an added bonus it ringfences the entire industry from the criminal element.
CE: That’s the plan. Many experts in this policy space support the CSC model as a middle step from a public health perspective, rather than going straight to a commercial model where profit is the primary motivator.
NL: I get it. ‘Cannabis Social Clubs’ sound a lot more daunting when it’s not accompanied by an explainer. I pictured a room full of people sitting around for hours smoking cannabis together, but that’s nowhere near it.
CE: Not remotely.
NL: Thanks for filling us in. We might need to talk more down the track about them after Stage one gets over the line.
CE: I’ll be here.