17 February 2021 Cate Faehrmann (Greens Party) introduced her Cannabis Bill into the NSW Parliament.
Most of it is based around 2019 information already published in one form or another. See the full text of the Bill at the bottom of this article.
What is of more interest is Faehrmann’s speech introducing the Bill, for which we commend her.
It will of course be roundly ignored by the conservative majority in the NSW house but at least her speech is now on record.
We have highlighted sections that we think are of particular interest and raise what will be obvious but important points to make when speaking to an entirely deaf government.
Her section talking about the history of cannabis in Australia and its subsequent prohibition is succinct and well worth reading if you need a quick set of references.
Cannabis Legalisation Bill
SPEECH 17 February 2021
It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Greens Cannabis Legalisation Bill 2021.
For too long NSW has been waging a phony war that has wasted billions upon billions of dollars, ruined thousands of lives, clogged our courts, fuelled police corruption along with an oversized police force and a thriving criminal market.
I’m talking about the war on drugs, and more specifically the war on a single plant – Cannabis.
The Cannabis Legalisation bill I’m introducing today creates a framework to legalise the possession, consumption, cultivation, sale and purchase of cannabis for people over the age of 18, while preventing and minimising potential harms through the creation of a state Authority.
If passed, the social, public health and economic outcomes of this bill will be huge.
Because in 2016, 192 million adults used cannabis globally with Australia having one of the highest per capita rates of cannabis use in the world.
Regardless of the fact that cannabis is an illegal drug, more than one in three Australians over the age of 14 will use cannabis in their lifetime and 11.6% will have used it in the past year.
That’s almost 2.5 million Australians who will have consumed cannabis in some way since last February.
And this number has remained steady over decades despite billions of dollars poured into the police force and the criminal justice system to try and catch people using, buying and selling cannabis.
In 2018, 48.8% of arrests for the previous 12 months were for cannabis yet cannabis only accounted for 28.3% of the weight of illicit drugs seized nationally.
In other words, cannabis arrests are disproportionately higher than the quantity of cannabis in circulation compared to other drugs.
Meaning these arrests are also disportionate when it comes to any harm caused by cannabis compared to other drugs, both legal and illegal.
I’ll get to that.
That same year there were 72,381 national cannabis arrests. This was an increase of 30% from the last decade.
And the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program which monitors 55 wastewater treatment plants for the presence of both legal and illegal drugs found that cannabis consumption increased to record levels in our capital cities last year.
Despite this, governments continue to waste billions of dollars of taxpayers money persecuting tens of thousands of people because of cannabis, instead of supporting them to ensure they use their drug of choice safely and get help if and when they need it.
Although there have been some positive shifts in recent years.
Prior to 2001, cannabis have been decriminalised in three Australian states: South Australia in 1987, the Australian Capital Territory (1992) and the Northern Territory (1996).
Evaluations conducted on these reforms have shown no increase in cannabis use rates.
Here in NSW, Cannabis has been prohibited since 19351 , and remains illegal under Section 10 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW) .
In April 2000, the NSW Cannabis Cautioning Scheme commenced and gave police the discretion to formally caution rather than charge adults detected for minor cannabis offences.
The Scheme was amended in September 2001 with the introduction of a mandatory education session for people cautioned on a second occasion.
In January last year, the ACT permitted small quantities of cannabis cultivation and possession for individuals. However, the sale and purchase of cannabis is still prohibited.
If successful, this bill would bring NSW into line with the global trend towards decriminalising and legalising cannabis, because of the social and economic benefits this brings, while reducing harm and taking the supply of the drug out of the hands of organised crime.
Legalisation around the world
In the US a host of states have legalised cannabis including New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Washington State, Alaska, the District of Colombia, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Vermont, Michigan and Illinois.
The state of New York, proposes to legalise and tax cannabis, which is expected to generate $300 million in tax revenue.
In 2018, the US Department of Health conducted a multi-agency study which found that the positive impacts of legalizing cannabis far outweighed the negatives.
It also found that decades of cannabis prohibition have failed to achieve public health and safety goals and have led to unjust arrests and convictions particularly in communities of color.
And at the federal level in the US the Democrats are now making moves to legalise cannabis. In a joint statement, Democrat senators said
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of colour. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of colour across the country.”
The country that started the drug war is now leading the fight to end it.
Uruguay and Canada established legally regulated cannabis markets in 2013 and 2018 respectively.
In the Netherlands, recreational cannabis consumption has been permitted since 1976, and in Spain cannabis social clubs have been commonplace since the 90s while private use was decriminalised in 2015.
In 2018, the Mexico Supreme Court declared marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and set a deadline of December 15 last year for the introduction of a cannabis bill.
So in November, Mexico’s Senate approved the decriminalization of marijuana allowing individuals to grow four plants at home and to possess up to 28 grams , or one ounce, of cannabis.
It also gave permission for the government to proceed with cannabis licensing and sales, while creating a legal regulatory framework. A vote on this is planned for April this year.
New Zealand held a referendum for cannabis legalisation last year. The reform was unsuccessful but only by a tiny margin.
In November last year, Israel announced it was moving forward with a plan to legalize recreational cannabis nationally by the end of this year.
This list of countries which have moved, or are moving, to legalise cannabis, some of which would be viewed as being more conservative than Australia on some issues, shows us just how quickly things are moving.
And how we will be left behind in what is an inevitability if we are genuine in our stated goal of reducing the harm from drugs.
Australia is signatory to three international treaties on drug control, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
These prohibit state parties from legalising scheduled substances, including cannabis.
In 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session or UNGASS met to discuss the International Drug War in a Special Session called “A Drug Free World… We Can Do It”.
It was headed up by Kofi Annan, later to be UN Secretary General, and goals were set to reduce and hopefully eradicate cocaine, opium and cannabis by 2008.
Needless to say it didn’t meet them.
So if the war on drugs has been such an abject failure, how did we get here?
The modern prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs began in the United States and has its roots in racism, oppression and greed.
In the 19th century there were few restrictions on the cultivation, possession or sale of cannabis in the US.
However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century, when Mexican refugees fleeing political unrest arrived in the US and brought popularity to the recreational use of cannabis.
What followed shortly after can only really be described as moral panic.
Cannabis was rebranded as Marijuana to highlight the “Mexicanness” of the drug and associate it with anti-immigrant sentiment.
Tales were spread of Mexican migrants selling this “demon weed” to American schoolchildren and state laws were slowly introduced to prohibit cannabis, ironically starting with California in 1913.2
However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that hysteria around cannabis began to really heat up with the arrival of Harry Anslinger who was made the founding commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930.3
In his excellent book Chasing the Scream: The first and Last Days of the War on Drugs J ohann Hari states that Anslinger had little to say about the dangers of cannabis up until the end of alcohol prohibition and manufactured a new drug war with Marijuana to justify the continued existence and growth of his agency.
Johann Hari writes:
He (Anslinger) also believed the two most-feared groups in the United States—Mexican immigrants and African Americans—were taking the drug much more than white people. Anslinger spoke of “colored students at the University of Minnesota partying with female students (white) and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy.”
Anslinger wrote to thirty scientific experts asking a series of questions about marijuana. Twenty-nine of them wrote back saying it would be wrong to ban it, and that it was being widely misrepresented in the press. Anslinger decided to ignore them and quoted instead the one expert who believed it was a great evil that had to be eradicated.
When the American Medical Association issued a report debunking some of his more overheated claims, he announced that any of his agents caught with a copy would be immediately fired.
And so the war on drugs had begun in earnest. By 1931, 29 states had outlawed Marijuana.
Then in 1936 the infamous propaganda film ‘Reefer Madness’ was released and in 1937 the US Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act which effectively criminalised the plant.
The 1950s and 60s saw the emergence of a new counterculture with the use of marijuana and psychedelics at its core.
Approx one third
One year after the war on drugs had been declared Nixon appointed the Shafer Commission to study drug abuse in america.
It found that the war on drugs was unwarranted with cannabis posing no widespread danger to society and recommended treating it as a health issue rather than a criminal one.
However just like Harry Anslinger four decades earlier, Nixon ignored the advice of experts, establishing the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and escalating efforts to crack down on drug users.
Years later, Nixon’s domestic policy chief had this to say:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people, We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes,
The ‘War on Drugs’ was officially declared by US President Nixon in
1971. Drug use had become ‘public enemy number one’.
break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Now to Australia and the history of cannabis here.
Unfortunately it follows a similar sorry path, except not in the very early stages of its introduction to this country.
Eighteenth century English botanist Joseph Banks envisaged Australia as a source of hemp for the British Empire’s Navy and so ensured that seeds of Cannabis Sativa were sent with the first fleet.
And as a result many of the early governors of NSW oversaw substantial hemp crops which were used to produce sails, uniforms and rope.
Cannabis remained one of Australia’s largest crops, and unlike the US, the consumption of recreational cannabis in the 19th century was believed to be widespread here.
However, Australia signed onto the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs.
Then in 1928, Victoria became the first state to legislate against the recreational use of Cannabis followed by NSW in 19354 .
In 1938 the publication Smith’s Weekly published a story on the ‘New Drug That Maddens victims’ which described how
“A Mexican drug that drives men and women to the wildest sexual excesses has made its first appearance in Australia. It distorts moral values and leads to degrading sexual extravagances. It is called marihuana.”
The article introduced the word Marijuana to Australia to distance stories of the drug from the familiar cannabis and hemp with which Australians had already had a long history and also regularly used as a medicine.
The 1970s saw Australian conservatives embracing the US-initiated war on drugs with large scale crackdowns on cannabis operations.
As in the US, this resulted in an explosion of heroin use and the increased dominance of the Cannabis black market by criminal gangs.
Harms of Criminalisation/Prohibition policy
So where are we today?
For starters, the tide is turning when it comes to public attitudes.
In the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, the number of respondents supporting cannabis legalisation was 41% for and 37% opposed.
This is double the results from the 2007 survey, in which only 21% supported legalization.
Last year, an inquiry by the Queensland Productivity Commission into Imprisonment and Recidivism made 42 recommendations including the decriminalisation and eventual legalisation of cannabis and MDMA.
From someone who went to university in Qld in the early 90s and attended large street marches in support of legalising cannabis, and yep smoked weed with friends on the weekend
– while living in share houses that were raided by the police with nothing better to do – I watch any potential reform in this area in that state with much interest.
As I do here in NSW Mr President!
Last year the Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice in this state – commissioned by the Premier herself stated:
“A public health approach that creates an inclusive environment to support treatment would be a better model than the current criminal law approach.”
The fundamental reason that cannabis should be legalised is that prohibition of cannabis creates far more harm than good.
And it just doesn’t work.
- It hasn’t reduced cannabis use.
- It hasn’t reduced harm.
- It hasn’t reduced the amount of cannabis on the black market.
- It has though made a lot of criminals very, very rich.
- It places a massive drain on the criminal justice system.
- It results in disproportionately high rates of criminal convictions and harassment of our First Nations peoples.
- It facilitates large-scale distribution and use of unsafe and unreliable illegally produced cannabis.
- With more than 2.3 million Australians using cannabis this past year, that’s a big market, selling product that the government has no ability to control.
I’ll turn briefly now to explain the properties of the plant itself.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the compound mainly responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
Cannabidiol or CBD is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis.
Both CBD and THC work with receptors that release neurotransmitters in your brain.
We have two types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies.
THC binds with receptors — mostly in the brain — that control pain, mood, and other feelings. THC can make you feel euphoric and give you that so-called high.
CBD is different and doesn’t make you high. Instead, it’s thought to work with other elements in the body linked to feelings of well-being.
In fact, just in December last year the Therapeutic Goods Association approved low-dose CBD containing products to be supplied over-the-counter by a pharmacist, without a prescription.
Meanwhile millions of Australians are still buying cannabis from the black market with potentially harmful consequences.
Because the type of super-potent, high THC cannabis that is more likely to cause mental health issues is increasingly common in the black market .
An analysis of cannabis seizures in NSW in 2013 identified trends of increasing THC potency levels and unbalanced, low quantities of CBD, which are factors for potential adverse mental health effects.
The illegality of cannabis has also given rise to synthetic cannabis products, which can potentially cause seizures, strokes or death.
Needless to say, black market sellers are not concerned with issuing health warnings for pregnant women, checking ID of underage buyers or providing information about safe use.
The Greens Cannabis Legalisation bill would ensure products are labelled with potency information and health warnings – just like alcohol and tobacco which in fact are far more harmful, both for the individual and for the burden these drugs place on society.
The 2019 Australian Drug Harms ranking study found that cannabis caused less overall harm than alcohol, cigarettes and crystal meth.
It also found that sensible non-prohibition approaches to cannabis would reduce negative cannabis related health and economic impacts.
Adverse health effects of cannabis use are relatively low, but it is a psychoactive drug and health risks are still there for some people.
For most people, cannabis elicits pleasant euphoria , relaxation, heightened sensory perception, laughter, altered perceptions of time, and an increased appetite.
A 2019 peer-reviewed global study, which the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW contributed to, assessed the health risks of non-medicinal cannabis use.
For occasional users, it found a very small increased risk of depression, small increased risk of schizophrenia, psychosis, dependence syndrome, motor vehicle injuries, and low birth weight and a large increased risk of bronchitis.
And that’s exactly why we need to legalise it Mr President, so that people predisposed to experiencing adverse effects from using cannabis receive the right information and perhaps avoid using the drug altogether or are able to access treatment if they need it.
Let’s turn to other research that is showing how moving away from a criminal approach to drug use is reducing harm across society.
A 2018 study of crime rates in Washington found a 15% – 30% drop in rape and property crimes following legalisation and a reduction in consumption of other drugs and alcohol.
A report from the Drug Policy Alliance in the US found that the savings from reduced arrests are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In the US again cannabis legalisation has resulted in lower rates of opioid-related overdoses, death, and harm because people are moving away from harder drugs where cannabis is legalised.
And legalisation has actually protected young people.
A 2017 study by the National U.S. Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration reported that cannabis use in teens declined in most jurisdictions where cannabis had been legalized
This included Colorado where the teen use rate of marijuana dropped to its lowest level in nearly 10 years.
Imagine though if, like an increasing number of other jurisdictions around the world, we adopted a harm reduction approach and established a legal cannabis industry in NSW.
In 2018, the Australian Greens asked the federal parliamentary budget office to cost the legalisation of cannabis.
It found that taxing and regulating cannabis could provide up to $2 billion to the Australian economy annually.
In Canada, the legal cannabis market contributed $8.26 billion to that country’s GDP in 2019.
In the US it’s brought in between $55 – $67 billion in 2020 with predictions of up to $130 billion by 2024.5 That’s to the economy, not to organised crime.
Approx two thirds
I urge members to ignore the usual hysterical lies and misinformation from the Murdoch press and seriously consider the benefits that taxing and regulating cannabis would bring to our state right now.
A legal cannabis industry would create thousands of jobs in retail and distribution, research and development and education and training, including in the regions.
No more wasting of billions of taxpayer dollars pursuing a futile crusade against a plant that is far less harmful than many legal drugs.
And much more money for the government to spend on health services including treatment for those who are experiencing harm from drugs – whether they be legal or illegal.
It’s estimated that the cost of cannabis prohibition costs Australia $2.4 billion dollars a year.
Yet 89% of cannabis arrests are for use and possession, withroughly just 5.5% of cannabis arrests for traffickers and growers.
Cannabis convictions contribute to serious stigmatisation with long-lasting effects on people’s lives.
Minor offences can limit a person’s ability to travel, cause financial hardship, restrict their employment opportunities and affect their dependents, families and communities.
The cannabis cautioning scheme has seen convictions for use and possession remain relatively stable across the state.
With so many jobs lost and businesses closed in NSW due to Covid-19 and our regions still recovering from the bushfires,
However the scheme remains discretionary and it’s becoming clear that police are not applying the scheme consistently across the state.
Rates of arrests have actually increased in lower socio-economic LGAs, rising by 44.4% in Fairfield, by 36% in Liverpool and 30.5% in Cumberland.
The percentage of people who are given cautions in the Hunter region is drastically lower than in the inner city. In North Sydney 75% of those caught are given a caution, in Newcastle it’s 34%, in singleton it is a pathetically small 11%.
Make no mistake about it. Cannabis arrests are used to harrass people based on race and disadvantage.
Between 2013 and 2017 82.55% of Aboriginal people found with a non-indictable quantity of cannabis were pursued through the courts compared to only 52.29% for non-Aboriginal people.
Bocsar data from 2013 to 2017 found that Aboriginal women received triple the rate of prison sentences for drug possession compared to non-Aboriginal women.
In the US, campaigns to expunge criminal records for minor cannabis convictions are a central part of the advancement of drug law reform.
Young people charged with use or possession and driven into criminal activity due to the stigmatization from a criminal record have been able to rebuild their lives and re-engage with their communities.
I have already discussed how criminalisation targets First Nations peoples in Australia and expungement is a critical component in addressing the harms and disadvantages suffered by them at the hands of our criminal justice system.
If we decide as a society that cannabis is not immoral but simply another drug of choice that the state regulates to reduce harm, then those who have been the victim of a cannabis related offence deserve a clean record, whether it was for using, growing or selling.
My bill addresses this.
THE BILLCannabis Industry Bill