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Speech: Introducing 'Just Legalise It' Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:34): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It is high time we legalised cannabis for adult use in our state of South Australia. While jurisdictions all over the world roll back prohibitions from the last century, we lag behind. The Greens want to change this. South Australia deserves leadership based on facts, not on fear. It is time for South Australian politicians to concede that a prohibition approach, that so-called war on drugs, has failed. Despite billions of dollars poured into this drug war, one in three Australians have tried cannabis. Prohibition has failed, even by its very own standards.

A government war on drugs is in fact a war on their very own people. When it comes to cannabis, that war on drugs is often a war on sick people, disabled people and people desperate to get out of pain. It does not have to be this way. The ACT has taken a small step; South Australia can now take a great stride. Canada, Uruguay and others show us the way forward.

We can see from those areas that have legalised cannabis that such a move has brought significant tax revenues. We can also see that cannabis can have real tangible benefits being legalised. Medicinal cannabis can get people out of pain or control their symptoms so that they can live their best lives. We should be seizing this opportunity to take money out of the pockets of organised crime and put it instead towards the public good and prosperity of our state.

This bill envisions a state of South Australia where this long-demonised plant—a plant that our climate grows so well—is harvested and used to create a new source of wealth that can be put to good use, such as aiding our sick health system, a South Australia where cannabis profits are directed into preventative health and education, where cannabis users are diverted away from the criminal justice system, and indeed we take the money out of the pockets of organised crime.

With this bill to legalise cannabis we aim to make this vision a reality, to reimagine our state where those much-touted offerings that were initiated by the Weatherill government of fine food and wine from our clean green environment become fine food, wine and weed from our clean, green environment. It is possible and it is popular. There has been support from the expected quarters, but I draw members' attention to the Murdoch press and the piece by the business editor, Cameron England, in today's The Advertiser. Mr England states in today's newspaper—and The Advertiser is far from a radical, lefty Guardian-type operation:

The fact that we've had no serious debate about legalisation in this state in recent years must lead you to assume that our politicians remain beholden to staunch opponents of cannabis within their own parties, who currently sit outside mainstream thinking on this issue, at least around suburban barbeques, if not in the halls of parliament.

In the supposedly puritanical United States, where 14 states allow recreational use, and 36 allow medical sales, cannabis sales revenue hit US$17.5 billion in 2020, according to a report in Forbes earlier this year.

Those huge sales figures have translated into massive tax windfalls for the states, some of which have creatively filtered the money back into schools, health care and law enforcement.

Colorado, for example, which taxes cannabis sales at 15 per cent, set up a Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, which the state can use for just those purposes.

And it's not some tie-dyed hippy selling a few bags of leafy weed down at the corner pub.

The industry is sophisticated, with venture capital-backed firms producing a variety of smokable and edible products.

Cannabis sale outlets in the US have more in common aesthetically with the Apple Store than Cheech and Chong, and even the big alcohol firms are getting in on the act.

Make no mistake, cannabis is a drug and what I am arguing with this bill and what I am putting forward is a model where we treat that drug as a health concern and regulate it in the way that we have other substances, such as alcohol, which were once prohibited. Prohibition has failed. Let's look towards ensuring it can be provided safely and indeed keeping people out of the clutches of organised crime and keeping money out of the pockets of organised crime.

I am delighted to hear that the Crime and Public Integrity Committee today has made some recommendations to look at this very issue. They have, in their work looking at organised crime in this state, had that penny-drop moment I believe many South Australians have already had well before our parliament.

Let's look at the harm that our cannabis laws do as well. In fact, cannabis is the most used illicit drug for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For every non-Aboriginal person in custody for drug use, four Aboriginal people are in custody for that drug use. As I have noted, one in three Australians has tried cannabis, but in South Australia it is estimated there are approximately 800,000 adult illicit cannabis consumers in our state, between the ages of 18 and 60, most typically.

It is big business for crime. It should be something that we seize and make safe and reduce harm for those who suffer. This bill provides a way forward. It establishes a legal market, which legalises the adult use and possession of cannabis. I note many people talk about recreational use, but I want members of parliament, as many members of the public do, to understand this is not simply recreation—it is much broader than that—but it is very much an adult use model that this bill puts forward.

This bill establishes an SA cannabis licensing agency to regulate the cannabis market with the aim of harm minimisation and ensuring compliance with conditions of what would be commercial licences. It is safer. It ensures that those cannabis consumers—and there are so many of them, even under the illicit system—have access safe and regulated products. It requires cannabis products to be labelled with health warnings and information about the strains—for example, the THC or CBD contents.

It prohibits those retailers who would participate in this industry from publicly promoting or advertising cannabis. It keeps cannabis out of the hands of minors and it prohibits cannabis stores being operated within 200 metres of a school or childcare centre. It ends the black market and breaks the organised crime business model. It also reduces the police resources that we currently put towards that war on people that is really the reality of the war on drugs.

It creates new green industry for our state and it increases tax revenue that can be invested in health and education. Beyond that, the bill also allows for the home grow of up to six cannabis plants, with more possible on compassionate grounds. This recognises that we have made legal medicinal cannabis, but also recognises that while it may be legal, it is still very much out of the ability for many who wish to alleviate their symptoms, their pain, their suffering, to access, not simply because the bureaucracy is so difficult and the red tape around it is so difficult, which I do acknowledge is becoming less burdensome, but of course the price remains out of reach for far too many, particularly those in poverty.

Of course, they are the patients who are resorting currently to the black market because they simply cannot afford the medicine that they need to live their best lives. This would allow those people to grow a plant that helps them heal. It also looks at the damage that we have done with previous cannabis convictions and it goes some way through that agency, the SA cannabis licensing agency, to look at the process of eliminating some minor past cannabis convictions for personal use.

Many members would be aware of Jenny Hallam, who of course was subject to a two-year good behaviour bond and went through many years in the courts for producing and making oils. She never grew a single plant to make those oils that people who were suffering and sick came to her to seek support to make. She took a loss on making those oils, which was recognised in her long and arduous journey through the courts.

She is very much somebody who has been greatly harmed by the criminalisation of cannabis in this state and people like Jenny are those who I hope that members of this parliament will have in mind as they consider this matter. That particular court case, I believe, did capture the interest of not just South Australians but all Australians. Jenny's house being raided the very month that we saw medicinal cannabis made legal in this state and then the many years of quite traumatic court processes that she was put through and subjected to due to our failed laws and our failed leadership.

I do not want to see anybody put through that again, simply because they have compassion for others or they seek to heal themselves and alleviate pain, sickness and suffering, whether it is a cancer patient who addresses the range of issues that going through those particular medical processes leads them. Whether it is the pain, whether it is the appetite stimulant, whether it is the nausea that they seek to address as they supplement the more orthodox medical processes, or whether it is those people who have chronic arthritis and the like.

We should not be criminalising patients in this day and age and I think with the legalisation of medicinal cannabis we have made that quantum leap in our thinking, but now we have to make another quantum leap and recognise that this is a plant. It is a plant that was once grown quite legally, it is a plant that has a long history and it is a plant that around the world increasingly governments are recognising, through the leadership largely of people, that should no longer be prohibited.

I refer members again to Cameron England in The Advertiser's article today and he sums up his opinion piece with:

If South Australian politicians really want to set the economy on fire, they should move as fast as they can to be the first in the nation to legalise recreational cannabis, pun very much intended.

It would be a massive boon for the state with hundreds of millions in pent up investment dollars sure to flow to the first Australian jurisdiction which allows the cultivation and/or sale of cannabis, with jobs and tax revenue not far behind.

The fact that cannabis for recreational use remains illegal in Australia, despite its widespread use and social acceptance in the community, is both a missed opportunity and highlights the detachment of our political leaders from those they purport to represent.

The illegal status of cannabis provides rivers of illicit gold for the outlaw motorcycle gangs we've been trying so hard to eradicate, while at the same time denying governments a lucrative revenue stream. It's bizarre really.

Mr England is somewhat pessimistic and believes that we will fail to seize this opportunity. I am not so. I also draw members' attention to the fact that we are not the only state investigating this issue, that Queensland has had a referral to their Productivity Commission in that state which certainly looked at the imprisonment and recidivism issues and, through that particular inquiry, noted and recommended the benefits of legalisation of cannabis and MDMA.

I draw members' attention to that particular document that has come out in the last few years, the 'Summary Report of the Queensland Productivity Commission into Imprisonment and Recidivism'. Page 22 of that document shows the benefits that could be drawn from the legalisation of cannabis and MDMA. Page 23 also outlines the growing support for drug reform and, indeed, the legalisation of cannabis in the community.

This is something where the community is far ahead of parliaments. But another parliament, in Victoria, has also taken a long hard look at this issue and I refer members to the work of the leader of the Reason Party in the Victorian parliament, the Hon. Fiona Patten MLC, in cooperation with the Andrews government, where they have also undertaken an inquiry into cannabis use in that state.

These are the starting documents we can use as a foundation, as well as looking to the experience of the ACT in the progressive but minimal reforms they have undertaken for well over a year now, where we have not seen the sky fall in and where we have not seen an increase in car accidents and the like. What we have seen is a reduction in people being criminalised for consuming a plant. When you put it like that, it should be a reasonably simple argument but, of course, it is not.

I hope this bill is the start of a conversation. On behalf of the Greens, I can certainly say we will be taking this to the state election as a key reform that the next parliament should enact. I hope members will be interested in continuing this conversation, and there are many and varied ways to do that.

In the past, when things have been too morally difficult, we have referred things off to SALRI, and that is an option here. We have seen the Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee call for further work and investigation and, should it happen, that work on the use of cannabis in this state and ways of breaking the business model of serious and organised crime should be cross party. One would imagine that we could do our heavy lifting as a parliament, as well as then perhaps draw on bodies such as the Productivity Commission, as the Queensland government has done.

This is not an intractable issue; this is an issue of opportunity. However, for me this is primarily an issue of compassion. I have been drawn into this debate through my experience and advocacy around medicinal cannabis, and the heartbreaking stories of those families, those people, who have struggled and been criminalised by the fact that over a century ago we prohibited a plant. I will not go into the reasons for that here, but anyone who has viewed the film Reefer Madness will question who really is mad in this debate. With those words, I commend the bill to the council.

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