Joe Biden’s decision to pardon Americans convicted of cannabis possession has escalated calls for Australia and New Zealand to liberalise their laws, with the Greens leading the charge in Victoria.
Under a proposal unveiled by the party this week ahead of the state’s November election, it would be legal for Victorians aged 18 and over to buy cannabis by 2024.
There would be penalties for selling the drug to under 18s, while sales to adults would be taxed at 30%, a similar levy to alcohol.
The party said the move has been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office and could raise more than A$1.2 billion over 10 years.
Health and justice spokesman and Brunswick MP Tim Read added it would undermine the illicit market and reduce harm.
“Thousands of Victorians use cannabis each year, yet for 50 years we have been more at risk from the criminal justice system than the drugs,” he said.
“If we’re serious about tackling organised crime, taking their market away will do more than any amount of enforcement. We need a smarter approach to drugs, and decriminalisation… is the first step.
He added the policy recognised that “decades of prohibition” had failed and disproportionately impacted Aboriginal and young people.
“We need to be looking to use our police and prison resources more wisely, we can’t afford to keep throwing good money after bad,” he said.
The policy includes $10m for a government agency to oversee the production and sale of cannabis and for education, prevention and awareness campaigns.
In the run-up to May’s federal election, the Greens vowed to legalise cannabis nationally, while the party plans to introduce a private member’s bill to do so next year.
Meanwhile, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has described the country’s current legal framework as “absurd” and lacking public support.
Criminal justice spokesperson Greg Barns said: “In Australia, we have an absurd and unfair situation where courts can’t take into account the type of drug being used when making sentencing decisions – cannabis is equivalent to ice.
“It is treated in the same way as any other illicit drug and this approach is no longer in line with community behaviour or expectations.
“President Biden’s decision reflects the reality, and highlights the harm being caused by a strict law-enforcement approach to deal with cannabis possession and use.
“The research in Australia shows that more and more people believe that using cannabis should not make you a criminal.
“Laws are only worthwhile and effective if they are respected by the community. If a law is regularly flouted, this is a telling sign that it has lost its authority and should be repealed.”
In New Zealand, Green Party MP and drug law reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick also urged the government to follow Biden’s lead.
She told Newshub Nation the high number of Kiwis with convictions for a drug 80% of the population will use by the time they’re out of their teens shows the law is “broken”.
Swarbrick said the fact the 2020 cannabis referendum resulted in a no vote did not prevent the government from legislating for drug reform and the decriminalisation of cannabis.
She added: “What we need is a law that says ‘this is the baseline approach that we’re going to take to all cannabis offences, to all drug offences, and particularly to possession’. Because right now, who is benefiting from criminal prosecution of those with simple drug offences?”
However, while welcoming Biden’s move, the government said it will not follow suit.
Justice minister Kiri Allan said the police have had the ability to exercise discretion when it comes to cannabis possession since 2019, leading to “a radical reduction” in convictions.
She insisted the current system is fit for purpose and pledged to respect the outcome of the referendum.
Meanwhile in the UK, the government has announced it has “no plans” to change cannabis laws after right-wing home secretary Suella Braverman let it be known she was “receptive” to the idea of it being upgraded from a class B to a class A drug.