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Speech: Just Legalise It: Cannabis Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:38): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise to speak to the Cannabis Legalisation Bill. It is high time that cannabis was legalised in this state. The time has come to legalise cannabis for adult use in our state. It is clear that the so-called government wars on drugs have failed wherever they have been waged. In fact they have always been a war on our very own people. Millions of Australians use cannabis every year, and many of those people actually use it because they are sick, they have a disability, and they are simply trying to manage their pain. We here in South Australia have an opportunity, and an opportunity I believe this parliament must seize and act upon, otherwise we may well be left behind. We must take a step now and show that we can lead on this issue.

Internationally, there have been so many developments that I actually will not have time to cover the movements happening around the world, but just this week Germany has announced that it will be moving ahead with legalising adult cannabis sales this year. They will, with the leadership of their health ministry there, hold expert sessions with over 200 medical, legal and other expert representatives taking part that will then inform a bill to be put to their parliament by the end of this year.

In Thailand, the recognition of the potential of a cannabis industry has been realised there. In Thailand they have recently, in this past month, expanded their legalisation of medicinal cannabis, and a group can now form a social enterprise and grow an unlimited number of plants. In Thailand.

In New York, they have announced their 'Seedling Opportunity Initiative', which actually requires that the very first 100 dispensary licences will go to people who actually have cannabis-related convictions in their past; a real restorative approach to justice. The recognition of the impacts that the US war on drugs has had on the people in the community of New York is being seized here in that very first step of creating a new socially equitable cannabis industry in that jurisdiction.

I was very heartened last year that the parliament of South Australia's Crime and Public Integrity Committee, and their work on organised crime, has identified what many of us already know; that the legalisation of cannabis does actually need to be addressed if we are to tackle organised crime. The committee there recommended, and I quote 'the establishment of a parliamentary committee to inquire into and report on potential benefits and issues associated with the legalisation of recreational use of cannabis in South Australia'.

That committee also recognised the potential revenue to the state and the 'potential to significantly disrupt the activities of organisers involved in serious crime'. By ending this war it is a win-win. We take away the business model of organised crime and we help people, particularly sick people, to have a better quality of life. The benefits of legalising cannabis are clear, starting with the real, tangible benefits of medicinal cannabis, which allows people to live free of pain and more in control of their symptoms.

It takes money from the pockets of organised crime and it puts it in the hands of government. That money then of course can be put to good use. Rather than spending money chasing down users of cannabis we can actually put that money towards healing our sick health system. We can prevent health issues arising by putting that money into health prevention and education. We can also, as I say, drive people away from the criminal justice system.

The bill here that we have before us in this council to legalise cannabis, takes this once demonised plant and it puts it at the forefront of generating wealth for our state of South Australia. Our climate, which allows us already to make world-class wine, is also ideal for growing world-class weed, and, just quietly, already does. Our state can in fact not just become the home of fine food and wine from our clean, green environment, but indeed fine food, wine and weed from our clean, green environment.

There are countries, such as the US, that has now seen the benefits of cannabis legalisation for some years. In 2021, the US saw the highest tax revenue from cannabis sales yet; $US3.7 billion. That is $3.7 billion that can be reinvested into their economy. As of March 2022 in Colorado, the first US state to legalise cannabis, they had generated $538 million in tax revenue, which has been dedicated to directly improving Colorado's public education system. Each US state that benefits from tax revenues from cannabis distributes it in the way that most benefits their communities.

From education in Colorado, to reducing recidivism in Alaska, or helping those who have been suffering from the punitive drug laws in California, these benefits to communities are in no small part why other US states and other jurisdictions right around the world are now lining up to legalise cannabis. This is a growing industry, an industry that nations such as Thailand are acting to capitalise on. From community enterprises and small local dispensaries to large venture capitalists, the market recognises this burgeoning industry. I hope our parliament will too.

We should consider the harm that our current cannabis laws have been inflicting and the fact that those effects have been disproportionately felt on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For every non-Aboriginal person in custody for drug use, four Aboriginal people are in custody for that very same drug use. This is extraordinary, given that cannabis is the most used illicit drug in South Australia, that we have people in custody for using a drug that most people in the community actually believe should be legal. Again, I note that one in three people have tried cannabis. It is high time that our laws caught up with the reality of our community.

Our current laws create a black market, which means big business for organised crime. It puts cannabis users at risk by forcing them to engage with this unregulated and dangerous market, and makes people fear seeking help when they need it. We need a way forward, and we must establish a legal market with protections in place for cannabis consumers. Make no mistake, cannabis is a drug. What I am arguing for here is a model where we treat that drug as a health concern and regulate it the way we have with other substances such as alcohol, which was also once prohibited.

This proposed bill will create a South Australian licensing agency to regulate the cannabis market with the aim of harm minimisation and ensuring compliance with conditions that could come with the granting of commercial licences. It ensures that the many users of cannabis have access to safe and regulated products, and means that cannabis products must be labelled with health warnings that also give information about strains. That will give cannabis users the information about levels of THC or CBD, or a number of other components, meaning they can make informed choices that keep them safe when using cannabis products—something that is not possible in the current illicit market.

The bill prohibits retailers who would participate in this industry from publicly promoting or advertising cannabis. This, with restrictions on retailers opening within 200 metres of a school or childcare centre, means that cannabis is kept away from the hands of minors. It is, indeed, an adult use bill. The bill will end the cannabis black market and break the organised crime business model. It will free people from the war on drugs that is, of course, a war on people.

As part of this new green industry, the home growing of up to six plants, or more on compassionate grounds, would be allowed. This addresses the issues we are currently facing around access to medicinal cannabis. While we have made it legal, distribution issues, red tape and price means that those who should be benefiting from the lawful provision of medicinal cannabis are not necessarily able to access it, especially those who live in poverty.

Some of these patients—and they are patients—are resorting to the black market. We are criminalising people who are sick, with all the risks they face that come with that. Allowing people to grow a small number of plants at home will also allow those people to heal. South Australians have been contacting me seeking help when they face criminal convictions for growing cannabis in their own home for their own personal medical use. Under the current laws they are committing a crime, yet these people should be able to live pain free without the threat of arrest.

I have previously spoken here of Jenny Hallam, who wanted to give relief to those who suffered chronic pain and other conditions. Jenny spent years in our South Australian courts after being charged with procuring and making cannabis oils. Let us be clear: she never grew a single plant, she never made a single cent. She made the oils for those who were sick and suffering. She did not make money out of those oils, and the court took that into account.

Jenny serves as an example of someone who has been harmed by the criminalisation of cannabis. We watched in shock as her house was raided the very same month that medicinal cannabis was made legal in this state, Jenny having been an advocate for making medicinal cannabis legal. We watched as she then spent years in our courts, defending herself against what are outdated and unfair laws. Nobody else should ever have to go through what Jenny did just because they want to heal themselves or heal others.

We all have compassion for those suffering through cancer, and we all want to see easy access to cannabis to help with a range of issues that come with those treatments. Surely we should not be criminalising patients or those who seek to help patients. At a federal level and here in South Australia we have already taken the substantial step of legalising medicinal cannabis. It is a significant step but it is actually a step in changing how we think about cannabis more broadly. It is a plant that governments around the world are finally recognising for the potential that it has and that it should no longer be prohibited.

This bill proposes something that would be a massive financial boon for the state, with hundreds of millions of pent-up investment dollars sure to flow to the very first Australian jurisdiction that allows the cultivation and sale of cannabis, with jobs and tax revenues not far behind. If we fail to act we are missing an opportunity. There is social acceptance of cannabis, demonstrated by its high rate of use within our community. What we are missing is the opportunity to get a significant, lucrative revenue stream, all while taking money out of the pockets of organised crime. Surely this should be a no-brainer.

Other states and territories are considering this issue. The ACT's progressive but minimal reforms have been in place for well over a year now. Despite the fears and the fear campaign there, the sky has not fallen in, traffic accidents have not increased and the people of the ACT are continuing as they always did. But what we have seen in that jurisdiction is people no longer being criminalised for accessing a plant.

In the past, there has been scepticism that this parliament would seize this opportunity, but I believe that is not the case. The Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee gives me that hope. I believe this Malinauskas government could make the most of being the first state to legalise cannabis for adult use.

As I said, that committee and its recognition of the link between organised crime and the punitive nature of our current laws on patients is a glimmer of hope. This is not an intractable issue; it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to be compassionate and to support those who will benefit from medicinal cannabis, but it is also an opportunity to grow a new green industry and provide revenue to our state. It is an opportunity to stop this stupid war on drugs, which is of course a war on our very own people.

Many members of this place and the other place have had quiet words to me about this piece of legislation. There is great community interest in it, and I would hope that there will be a willingness to have a mature discussion, in the way that Germany is now doing, led by their health ministry, informed by experts, informed by evidence and done in a cross-party, collegial matter. I would hope that this bill would be the start of something big, but the start of that cross-party work would most appropriately, I believe, be done by a joint house committee—not to make a pun.

I know that there are Labor, Liberal, Independent and crossbench members who have all expressed to me in their interest in populating such a committee and, I believe, being part of a shared journey of driving this conversation forward. Whether they have had personal experience in a number of ways, whether they have had somebody who is sick and suffering and who has not been able to lawfully access medicinal cannabis, or whether they simply have their eyes on the investment we could be making in our health and education systems as a result of this industry, I welcome their interest and support and look forward to working with all members.

I will be holding some briefings on this bill and look forward to members participating in those and progressing this debate in a timely manner—indeed, in not quite as quick a time as Germany is about to do but not too much longer. We are in a new parliament, and I think there is new hope and new common sense entering the debate on cannabis, right around the globe. I hope South Australia takes its rightful place in leading in this matter. With that, I commend the bill.

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