The Legalize Cannabis WA Party registered only in December 2020 to stand for seats in the West Australian Senate and with some smart preferencing deals and a little bit of luck they managed to gain not one but two seats in the upper house of the legislature in the March 2021 state election .
A surprise not only to local political players in the state but also nationally and the first ever standalone candidates anywhere in Australia to be voted in on cannabis issues alone.
- Mark McGowan
The very popular West Australian premier, Mark McGowan, of the Labor party is known to be progressive on a number of fronts although he did stress his centrist appeal on winning this election
“People have seen — with me and my government — that we are very centrist, we are very ‘middle of the road’, we are very progressive, we are caring, but we are responsible. “There is nothing to fear.”
We spoke with Sophie to guage her thoughts on where she thinks her electoral success will be able to lead cannabis issues in the Australian public discourse
- Sophia Moermon
Sophia congratulations on the win of a Senate seat for the legalise cannabis party WA, even with the WA preferences system did it come as a bit of a surprise?
Yes, it still was a bit of a surprise. The party is very young and we didn’t have a huge time frame for campaigning.
Obviously our message resonated with people.
For our readers internationally I wonder if you could give us a bit of background on the party , what it stands for and the issues you ran on as well as your journey to becoming the selected individual to stand for the seat?
In Western Australia cannabis is illegal for recreational purposes.
It has only fairly recently been legalised for medicinal purposes.
The party was formed in December by a few very motivated and compassionate people. I found out about it via Facebook, and when requested to volunteer some time I was happy to do so. I did not think that would translate in to a seat in Parliament, so that is definitely a surprise.
I’ve always worked in health related fields, starting out as a registered nurse, followed by naturopathy, and finally Traditional Chinese Medicine.
My main motivation has always been to get people healthy, happy, and empowered in regards to their health and lifestyle choices. Now I get to do this on a large scale, for which I feel incredibly grateful and honoured.
We learn this week that you will be joined by a colleague in the party, Brian Walker, who has also managed to land a Senate seat in the West Australian parliament.. What bargaining and negotiating powers do you think it will give you in the legislature now that there are two of you on the ticket?
Obviously 2 is better than 1, and we are hoping that this will provide us with some more influence.
Have you both or individually worked on plans for what issues you’d like raised in the legislature with regard to cannabis?
Brian and I both have very similar ideas on how to present concepts and ideas around legalisation. Several aspects that are important and related include harm minimisation strategies, mental health support (detox centres, counselling etc, public housing), education of adults and children, education of health care professionals.
Funds currently lost to the policing of cannabis can be redirected to other important matters that have a much greater negative effect on society.
One group very much targeted under this are our local indigenous peoples. With issues around trauma, substance abuse, inadequate housing and support, greater understanding and funding is required for appropriate care and laws.
Here at CLR we imagine that Medicinal cannabis access and cost is a huge issue as it is throughout the country is that your primary concern?
As mentioned above, the policing and subsequent incarceration is costly. Surely we can find better ways to deal with the recreational use of cannabis, a system that is fairer, and cheaper.
With regard to “adult” use cannabis will you be looking to introduce just decriminalisation or taking things a step further as most US states have and move towards an across the board regulated environment.
We are looking at full legalisation, thus including recreational use.
It is suggested that the very popular current Labor premier who won with a landslide in this election is known to be quite progressive on a number of issues, would you be able to indicate to our readership how open he might be to effective cannabis legislation and regulation in WA at this time and if there are elements of the labor party who might also be open to creating change.
I haven’t had the opportunity yet to discuss this with anyone in the Labor Party.
Are you finding support from other elected officials for positive thinking on cannabis
Some have indicated support.
During your term what do you hope to manage in the community with regard to cannabis and will you be directing your efforts towards individuals rather than cannabis industry interests
I hope for medicinal cannabis products to become more easily accessible with less barriers, and reduced cost.
The American system seems very commercialised and hasn’t always led to a more affordable product. This has led to some people still buying on the black market. I think by creating an equitable system that takes in to account the needs of individuals in regards to small business ventures, or people growing their own in their garden, as well as understanding the needs of larger companies, we hope to create the basis of a fairer system that doesn’t disadvantage anyone.
As Australia’s first elected official for cannabis will you be looking to share your experience with individuals around Australia trying to get on the ticket for sensible cannabis regulation. Do you plan to travel to spread the word?
I would love to share my experiences in regards to making cannabis accessible. It would be a great opportunity and achievement if I can help others with this process. I also love travel a lot, like very very much, so any opportunity will be taken up
We note that Legalise Cannabis party is currently registered for upcoming elections in states and territories around the country , do you feel that your victory in Western Australia calls for a concerted effort over the next 24 months to bring all the political strands of cannabis activism and advocacy under one banner in Australia to present a single national (coalition) to force Canberra to take the issue with a level of seriousness that they have currently ignored
Yes. We are working with other parties at the moment with the aim to get more seats in other states, and to go to Canberra.
Here at CLR we have watched the liberal party in Parliament House create an opportunity for an export industry that gives the impression that cannabis can only be about stock market listings, political connections and a new quasi pharmaceutical sector at the expense of medical patients and the individual “recreational” cannabis user. Meanwhile just down the road in the ACT legislature a young labor politician Michael Pettersson has drawn an almost diametrically opposite vision of what regulated cannabis could become in this country with very limited means at his disposal.
Do you think yours and Brian’s election to the WA Senate will strengthen public feeling on the issue and begin that sea change that the whole of Australia needs on the issue of cannabis?
I think that public perception is changing. We’ve had a lot of support from Boomers, who are looking forward treatments for pain without side effects.
The more coverage we get, the more interest we create, the more mainstream cannabis will become. If we can educate people on the use and effects, and show how different this is from drugs that have severe social consequences, attitudes are likely to become less rigid. Stigma will reduce and acceptance will increase.