Victorian crossbench contenders vow to push for cannabis decriminalisation if elected

Despite premier Daniel Andrews refusing to budge on the issue, Legalise Cannabis party promises to push ‘forcefully’ on drug reform

A group of progressive candidates that might hold the balance of power in the Victorian upper house have vowed to push for cannabis decriminalisation despite premier Daniel Andrews refusing to budge on the issue.

While the Legalise Cannabis party said it was too early to “count their eggs”, preliminary projections suggest they are in the running to win three upper house seats – but it is promising to push “forcefully” on drug reform if elected.

Currently, Labor looks likely to pick up about 15 upper house seats, meaning the government will need six other MPs to pass laws.

Legalise Cannabis would probably be supported by the Greens, who support decriminalisation. The Animal Justice party, who are waiting to see if it will secure a seat, also wants decriminalisation, while the Reason party’s leader, Fiona Patten, who is currently in a tight race with former Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek, has also voiced support for it.

Craig Ellis, secretary of Legalise Cannabis, said if any of its candidates were elected they would “forcefully” push for legalisation.

“If we are in a position to be able to get anything done, we will forcefully press the case for legalisation,” he said.

“I want to make it really clear decriminalisation is not [just] an option.

“It’s much too early to think about tactics, but we’ll have a close look at our strategy.”

The party wants to allow Victorians to grow their own plants, along with a state-based licensing system covering all commercial operations and an immediate moratorium on arrests of cannabis consumers.

In Victoria, arrests relating to cannabis possession have risen, from 9,867 recorded in 2017-18 to 11,259 in 2020-21, according to data from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

The Greens’s health and justice spokesperson, Dr Tim Read, said cannabis reform would be a priority for the party when parliament returned.

“With a more progressive crossbench in the next term of parliament we can make this happen,” Read said.

“The Greens already have a plan on the table to legalise cannabis, and we’ll be pushing for it as soon as we’re back on Spring Street.”

The Greens will push for legalisation before 2024, with a policy that would allow Victorians over the age of 18 to buy cannabis, to be taxed at 30% – which the party says could help raise $1.21bn in revenue over 10 years.

On Tuesday Andrews said he had no intention of supporting decriminalisation.

“My position on that has been very clear and very consistent … over a long period of time,” the premier said.

But one Labor MP, who did not want to be named, said it was possible that the party could consider cannabis reform if it was unable to get legislation through the upper house.

“If it was a situation where we are finding it very hard to govern because of these minor parties … then reform may be something that we have to look at,” the MP said.

Will Tregoning, the chief executive of harm minimisation group Unharm, said their studies suggested more than 75% of the population supported legalising cannabis.

“A lot of members of the public are shocked to know it is still criminalised,” Tregoning said.

Nicole Lee, professor at the National Drug Research Institute, said the ACT, South Australia and the Northern Territory have all decriminalised cannabis.

“The next step, which the ACT has taken, is legalising use and possession,” Lee said.

“Growing it on a commercial basis is still illegal, but you can grow two plants or four per household if there are more than two adults,” she said.

Passed in 2020, the ACT has the country’s most progressive laws, allowing possession of up to 50g of cannabis and permitting the growing of it at home.

Lee said changes to the policy received a large amount of opposition, but the policy had only resulted in safer user practices.

“Anything that moves cannabis and other illicit drugs away from the criminal justice system is a good move.”


Cait Kelly and Adeshola Ore

The GuardianTramp

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