After weeks of ill-tempered debate, thousands of media interviews and plenty of mud-slinging, the 2022 Federal Election campaign trail is almost at an end.
Arguments have raged, manifestos dissected and policy detail scrutinised as the scramble for votes intensified.
By now, of course, with only days before Australia heads to the polls, we have a pretty good idea of who stands for what on many key issues.
But what of cannabis? What of our industry? Which of the parties is adopting a liberal approach to legalisation and reform, and which are continuing to favour a tightly controlled regulatory environment?
In the search for answers, Cannabiz approached every party with candidates at this year’s election to assess exactly where they stand on cannabis issues. Here’s what happened…
Despite repeated requests, Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party did not respond to questions from Cannabiz regarding its policies on medicinal or recreational cannabis.
Nor could Cannabiz find any reference to cannabis in its manifesto.
However, it is abundantly clear that the Liberal Party is not about to begin a conversation any time soon over legalising, or even decriminalising recreational cannabis.
On the contrary, the Liberal party is firmly against any reform, particularly pertaining to recreational use.
In 2019, then home affairs minister, and current defence minister, Peter Dutton was one of several senior ministers who attacked the ACT’s move to allow personal use in the territory.
“I think it might be trendy for the ACT government to go down this path and they’ll say we’re enlightened and progressive and all the rest of it,” Dutton said. “But I think it’s dangerous.”
Meanwhile, health minister Greg Hunt could not have been clearer in his response to a petition last year calling for THC and CBD to be down scheduled and legalised.
“The government does not support any measure that could imply that illicit drugs are safe or may increase their availability or consumption,” he wrote. “As such, it does not support the legalisation, decriminalisation and/or use of any quantity of illicit drugs.
“The use of any illicit drug in any quantity is a high-risk activity and has the potential to cause significant health, social and economic harms.”
He also claimed that while “many Australians may view cannabis as harmless”, 20% of Australia’s drug and alcohol treatment services are being provided to people who say cannabis is their “principal drug of concern”.
While there appears to be no categoric statement ruling out a referendum on recreational cannabis, it is fair to assume that letting the public decide – as New Zealand chose to do – is unlikely in the extreme.
The Liberals are clearly far more receptive towards medicinal cannabis, having legalised it in 2016 (thanks largely to the sterling work of campaigners, Lucy Haslam key among them).
Since then, the government has eased export rules and, to some extent, streamlined licensing requirements and prescribing processes. It has also pledged some funding – limited thought it may be – for cannabis research.
But its most progressive act since medical legalisation has been to down schedule low-dose CBD, a reform that will – probably at some point next year – enable consumers to buy products from a pharmacy, without a prescription.
In the absence of responses to questions from Cannabiz though, it is unclear if the Liberals would further take the handbrake off what is still a highly regulated industry if they are re-elected.
As with the Liberals, Labor did not respond to Cannabiz, and there is no policy statement in its manifesto or elsewhere on its website.
However, it is known that Labor typically support cannabis for use as a medicine, and have a non-committal view of recreational use, stressing the latter is a state issue.
It told the ABC Vote Compass Project: “Labor supports the use of medical cannabis regulated at the federal level, but considers the legalisation of recreational cannabis as a matter for state and territory jurisdictions.”
However, historical remarks from Labor leader Anthony Albanese perhaps hint that he would not be against some sort of reform.
Pressed for his views on cannabis by Triple M Central Queensland at the end of 2019, Albanese said that while he would not be taking advantage of the ACT’s relaxed approach to personal use in Canberra, “common sense” was needed.
“We’ll see how that all plays out [in the ACT], but we do need to have a bit more common sense to some of these issues,” he said. “So much is used for law enforcement [and] that’s money that’s taken away from things that matter far more.”
Proponents of legalisation will hardly be holding their breath in eager anticipation should Labor triumph. But there is a glimmer of hope. Sort of.
As part of the ruling coalition with the Liberals, the National Party is presumed to have a similar stance on cannabis to its larger partner. In keeping with the other main parties, Cannabiz received no response from the Nationals.
Yet Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has, on occasion, locked horns even with advocates of medicinal cannabis, despite supporting its legalisation in 2016.
In 2019, at a screening of medicinal cannabis documentary High as Mike, Joyce became agitated during a Q&A and referred to his brother, who had died from cancer, angrily rejecting the notion that cannabis could have helped in some way.
“I don’t want someone suggesting there was some grand elixir that we somehow missed,” he said.
Joyce’s attitude during the Q&A triggered a sharp rebuff from Lucy Haslam who accused the politician of trivialising her son’s death and belittling others who receive benefit from medicinal cannabis.
Joyce’s remarks seemed to conflict with earlier views. In 2016, he had supported Haslam in her fight for medical legalisation, saying: “When you can find a use for any part of a plant that can assist people when they are ill, when they are in pain, you should do it.”
The Greens have provided the greatest level of detail surrounding their cannabis policy.
Their message is clear: let’s legalise it.
According to NSW Senate candidate David Shoebridge, “the greatest harm from Australia’s current cannabis laws comes from the police, courts and jails that criminalise users”.
The party adds that the futile war on drugs has been an expensive failure and empowered organised crime yet done nothing to prevent cannabis use in Australia.
Under its legalisation plan, the Greens would establish an Australian Cannabis Agency to oversee licensing and act as the single wholesaler of legally accessible cannabis.
The regulatory framework would permit over 18s to grow up to six plants at home for personal use.
Licensed growers would be required to produce cannabis containing specific levels of THC and CBD. Specialist retail stores would be established that could sell cannabis in plain packaging, with visible health warnings, and staff would be required to attend responsible sale of cannabis courses.
While Dutch-style cafes would not be permitted, a two-year review would allow regulation to be tweaked or reformed.
Advertising would not be permitted, and protecting young people from cannabis would be a “key objective”.
While stressing that raising revenue was not the driving force behind the policy, the Greens said cannabis would be subject to GST and federal excise that would help fund drug treatment, health education and harm reduction, particularly around mental health.
At the launch of the party’s cannabis policy earlier in the campaign, its candidate for Page Kashmir Miller said: “The reality is that many people in our community use cannabis and our health-based approach meets that reality.
“By legalising cannabis, we can establish a regulated industry which will raise A$4.4 billion
in revenue that can be used to build schools, hospitals and help with the recovery of the
climate catastrophe facing the Page community,” she added.
On changes to the drug-driving rules, the Greens stated that penalties would remain in place for drivers driving under the influence.
But improving the testing for drug impairment would be a “priority”.
United Australia Party
Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party did not respond to requests for comment on its cannabis policies.
However, Palmer has previously ridiculed the Greens for what he called the party’s desire to “see all Australians on the dole freely smoking marijuana”, suggesting that he is not exactly a fan of legalising recreational use.
While there is little to inform voters on United Australia’s stance on medicinal cannabis, a policy statement addresses the “sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship” and insists medical treatments “should not be mandated from on high”.
It adds that government-appointed chief medical officers who have no knowledge of a patient’s circumstance should not be limiting those patients to “a particular or narrow range of treatments”.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party has not made explicit mention of recreational cannabis in its policy documents, but said it recognises that “whole-plant medicinal cannabis continues to act as a natural proven alternative for chronic pain relief and other serious health symptoms”.
“One Nation remains at the forefront of advocacy within the federal parliament and will continue to push to bring the cost of access down,” it said.
Hanson has previously voiced her objection to legalising cannabis and even rejected the term “recreational”. “Sport is recreational, smoking marijuana is not,” she told broadcaster Paul Murray last year.
However, in the same interview, she said decriminalising cannabis would be “fair enough”.
Furthermore, in February, Hanson said she would be prepared to back a plebiscite for social use in South Australia, although she maintained her own personal reticence about relaxing the current laws.
Australian Values Party
The Australian Values Party (AVP), created in 2021 by former major Heston Russell, says it is “all for a citizen-initiated referendum process” to discuss cannabis issues rather than leaving it to political parties to decide in isolation.
Russell said he is “absolutely open” to decriminalising cannabis and has spent “lots of time living and working in the US and have seen the positive effects of this at the human and economic levels of society”.
He added that he “absolutely” supports medicinal cannabis and that access should be made easier.
A key focus for the AVP is reform of the current driving rules. They need to be “standardised per the requirements for opioids”.
“We have so many veterans and first responders medicated for their PTSD that are further suffering from not being able to drive for fear of the current testing practices – which further isolates them and compounds their mental health issues,” Russell said.
The regulatory framework should also be removed from state legislation and “supported as a federal policy that provides professional learning of the successes experienced by our coalition partners – the US, Canada and others”.
There should also be an acknowledgement of the “opportunities” it provides to solve the mental health crisis, and treat anxiety and chronic pain.
The Socialist Alliance, which has 14 candidates in the election, supports legalising cannabis and the decriminalisation of “all recreational drugs”.
“We have a history of supporting grassroots campaigns for legalising cannabis,” national co-convenor Jacob Andrewartha said.
While backing a referendum, the Socialist Alliance argues that a public vote is hardly necessary given what it calls the “high level of public support for legalisation of cannabis”.
“Politicians should act on that by passing legalisation that decriminalises and legalises the use of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes,” Andrewartha added.
“Our current policies in regards to drug legislation are to legalise marijuana, decriminalise other recreational drugs, and treat addiction as a health issue.”
Other health-related policies would see a series of models for drug provision, from prescription to pharmacy sales, licensed sales, licensed premises and unlicensed sales.
The models would be based on evidence and the assessment of risks, while the growing, manufacture, pricing, packaging, strength, purity levels, cleanliness and security of facilities would also be policed “through democratically constituted expert and consumer committees”.
Advertising and marketing of all legal and illegal drugs would be banned.
On roadside testing, given that other prescription drugs are often exempt from prosecution, “it would seem reasonable that medical cannabis has an exemption”.
The Australian Progressives general executive Edward Carroll described cannabis as “one of the most over-regulated plants”, and branded restrictions placed on medicinal cannabis in particular as “unworkable and unnecessary”.
“[We should] shift the conversation around drugs from a criminal issue to a health issue,” he said. “For cannabis specifically, Australian Progressives proudly support moving towards legalisation for recreational purposes, and a strong emphasis on researching and developing the medical capabilities of cannabis.”
According to the party, a referendum would not be necessary because cannabis legalisation is not a constitutional issue. However, it would “absolutely support a plebiscite on legalisation” in the unlikely event of the government of the day deciding to seek public opinion.
The Australian Progressives, with four Senate candidates in the election, also believe cannabis should be treated like any other prescription medication when it comes to roadside testing. But it acknowledged that more research is required over what testing standards should be accepted for driving with cannabis in the system.
“We would support the evidence as that research is developed,” Carroll said.
Zero tolerance for high-risk industries would still be “absolutely required”, he added.
Reason leader Fiona Patten MP has a strong history of advocating for reforms to medicinal and recreational cannabis laws.
To that end, the party supports the creation of a regulated legal market for adult use, and a public plebiscite, albeit one held in conjunction with a general election to “reduce the cost of conducting [it]”.
“Reason supports the decriminalisation of the personal use and possession of all drugs,” it told Cannabiz. “While this would not eliminate the health and social harms associated with the illicit market, it would reduce some of the harms that arise from criminalisation for people who use drugs, which disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, people of colour, people with a history of incarceration, and people on low incomes.”
Reason also supports access to medicinal cannabis for a range of health conditions under the treatment of a qualified healthcare professional
It branded the current system “confusing” and “unaffordable” with too many people with chronic health conditions denied the treatment they need. A review of the system should be conducted to ensure it is fit for purpose, it said.
While stressing drug-driving laws are the responsibility of state and territory governments and therefore not an issue in the election, penalising drivers even if no impairment is evident is unjust.
“Reason supports reform to drug-driving laws to introduce impairment testing for medicinal cannabis. In the absence of this reform, Reason supports exemptions for people using medicinal cannabis,” it added.
Legalise Cannabis Australia Party
No surprises here.
Cannabis should be available to anyone who needs it, according to the Legalise Cannabis Australia Party.
It holds the view that all cannabis is therapeutic and that everyone should be “free to choose their recreational therapy”.
“We want to see an end to prohibition, it hurts good people,” NSW party secretary Gail Hester said. “The current legal framework is to criminalise law-abiding citizens for using a plant. It is a waste of police resources and taxpayer money. Removing it from the poisons schedule and removing any reference to cannabis in all drug laws would be a good start.”
But she said the party has no desire to hold a referendum, arguing that a vote against legalisation – something it accepted was likely – “would put us back decades”.
On medicinal cannabis, LCAP said anyone should be free to grow their own cannabis and, for those who are unable to, a dispensary system should be in place.
In addition, the party called for a compassionate access subsidy for the financially disadvantaged who want cannabis on prescription.
“Legalisation is the way to make it happen. The government would not have to pay subsidies to patients, or the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for so many patients, if it was available to all via home grow or a dispensary system.”
The party would also reform the zero tolerance driving laws, calling them “discriminatory and unreasonable”, and believes medicinal cannabis patients should be exempt from prosecution if they test positive.
However, the party goes further by saying the exemption should extend to patients who can’t afford prescribed cannabis and who are forced to turn to the illicit market.
“Patients who are already discriminated against because they can’t afford products and, in many cases, the cost of bloated consultation fees that come with the process, need compassion and fair treatment as well,” it said.
“Around 200,000 scripts (65,000 “patients”) have been approved since 2016. What happens to the other 800,000 who can’t afford it? There needs to be an ID system in place that allows medical users to ‘get out of jail’ if they can’t afford products.”
The New Liberals
The New Liberals, or TNL as they are now called, have a no-nonsense policy concerning recreational cannabis. Legalise it.
Perhaps a referendum? “No need, just legalise.”
It also agrees that access to medical cannabis should be made easier. And what policies would it implement to make that happen? “Legalise it.”
But it adopted a more cautious tone regarding driving.
“A person on a prescribed drug needs to be aware of the risks of driving and if there is a risk, don’t drive,” TNL leader Victor Kline said.
Only in an emergency should medicinal cannabis users be exempt if they test positive to a roadside test.
The Jacqui Lambie Network
The Tasmanian Senator and military veteran has been a vocal campaigner for better patient access, including in her home state. Last year, she joined a meeting of veterans, politicians, medical professionals, industry leaders and advocates to explore the creation of a campaign to fight for proper veteran access hosted by Lucy Haslam.
A spokesperson told Cannabiz: “Jacqui supports the use of medicinal cannabis when it’s prescribed by a person’s treating doctor. She’d support measures to expand access where there’s good evidence from medical experts that it will help people who have a medical condition.”
Federal ICAC Now
Federal ICAC, known as FIN, has anti-corruption as its single issue and, as such, said it has no fixed cannabis policy.
“We are also a very small party, running in the Senate only and will therefore never be in a position to introduce legislation, but hopefully we can be a positive influence in the review process,” it told Cannabiz.
The Australian Democrats, which have five Senate candidates standing in South Australia, NSW, Victoria, WA and Queensland, remain open-minded about recreational cannabis, but do not have a specific policy position.
The party told Cannabiz it would be happy to review research and evidence for and against decriminalisation and/or legalisation, and assessing “the benefit to the nation as a whole”.
Turning to medicinal cannabis, the Australian Democrats said more research would not go amiss, and castigated what it regarded as the “significant underinvestment in Australian health and medical research” over the last decade.
“This has meant that research projects have either not been funded or shut down,” it claimed.
“In regard to medicinal cannabis, there have been many promising research studies indicating a benefit for medicinal cannabis in specific indications. If medicinal cannabis is to become widely available, we need to invest more into high-quality research that proves the medicinal claims surrounding cannabis use.
“As with all healthcare, the best outcomes are derived from the best-quality research. This includes basic research and large-scale, randomised clinical trials, which is one of the pre-cursors for level one evidence and guideline development.”
The party described the barriers to prescribing medicinal cannabis as “unreasonable” given its legal status, and said it would “like to see medicinal cannabis made more accessible for those who need it”.
“We recommend the development of education programs to make GPs aware of the evidence (as it becomes available) for medicinal cannabis use, and on guidelines for its prescription to patients,” the party said.
“This is a complex and multi-layered issue with many different stakeholders impacted. If medicinal cannabis is to become more widely available, then the evidence for its use in different indications needs to be more robust.
“This speaks to a need for greater investment in research on medicinal cannabis. If governments are to modify legislation, then they too will need to be convinced of the evidence for its use.
“Additionally, any risks or adverse events associated with medicinal cannabis use must also be clarified so that doctors can be confident in prescribing it to their patients.”
On driving, greater investment in technology to detect impairment for cannabis users should be made available.
Anyone impaired “should not be behind the wheel of a vehicle”, it added.
The Liberal Democrats support legalising recreational use and are in favour of the “least restrictive model” possible, with minimal tax.
“We fundamentally believe the individual is sovereign over their own mind and body and should be free to make their own choices provided they do not directly harm another,” the party said.
And it does not regard it as necessary to seek the views of the Australian population, preferring politicians to push through reform.
That said, lead Senate candidate Kate Fantinel would support a referendum rather than retain the status quo.
While conceding that some regulation is necessary – particularly around ensuring under 18s cannot access cannabis – it should be as “light as possible and take an educational, rather than punitive approach”.
“We don’t believe it is necessary to levy a new tax on cannabis. The revenue the government would receive from GST on the sale of cannabis would still be significant,” the party said.
“While this is our ideal model of legalisation, we would still support any model that improves on the status quo.”
Fundamentally, the Liberal Democrats believe that if a doctor regards cannabis as the best remedy for a patient, they should be free to prescribe it without the “bureaucratic nightmare” that currently exists.
In the event of a tax on recreational cannabis, the party believe medical users should be exempt.
In a similar vein to a number of smaller parties, the Liberal Democrats believe drug-driving laws should be based around impairment, not merely the existence of THC in a driver’s saliva or blood.
While the presence of cannabis should form part of the evidence, it should not be the sole evidence used to determine someone’s guilt.
“A court should be free to look at all evidence (i.e. recorded footage, witness statements, expert testimony etc) to determine if an individual was impaired to the point of being unable to operate a motor vehicle,” it said. “This would apply to both recreational and medicinal users.”
Fusion, a merger of the Science, Pirate, Secular, Vote Planet and Climate Change Justice parties, supports the legalisation of cannabis, regulated and excised in much the same way as alcohol.
With regard to drug-driving laws specifically, it said it is “clear that the current regulatory model will need to be amended to account for cannabis usage being detectable well after the effects have ceased”.
“We don’t yet have specific proposals on the exact changes required, but would seek to implement them in an evidence-based manner following the usual parliamentary processes,” the party said.
Fusion provisionally supports legalisation of other currently controlled substances, arguing that prohibition of specific substances has “failed to minimise harms to individuals, communities and the economy”.
Fusion proposes a model of harm minimisation similar to that of Portugal, where it said decriminalisation has provided “net benefits to society as a whole”.
“Fusion sees this as shifting issues from the police and courts to healthcare, reducing opportunities for police corruption and underworld violence, as well as improving quality control, and alleviating many of the social ills created by classifying specific substances as illicit.”
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party
The DHJP said it has no formal policy on cannabis. But Hinch has spoken passionately in the past about the need and rights of Australians to access medicinal cannabis.
He has also previously backed an idea by former Greens leader Richard Di Natale to establish a cannabis agency and to legalise the drug more broadly.
“I think it’s ridiculous watching big burley cops with guns in their hips arresting plants,” he said in the past, adding: “We could get rid of the budget deficit in two minutes by legalising marijuana.”
Animal Justice Party
The party told Cannabiz it has a draft policy currently under review. A spokesperson added: “We are aware of the issues and the importance of having such a policy.”
Indigenous Party of Australia
A campaign team spokesperson said the party has no policy on the issue.
- Other parties who did not respond to questions about their cannabis policies were Katter’s Australian Party, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Centre Alliance, Rex Patrick Team, Australian Christians, Australian Citizens Party, Australian Federation Party, David Pocock, Drew Pavlou Democratic Alliance, Informed Medical Options Party, Kim for Canberra, Seniors United Party of Australia, Sustainable Australia Party, The Great Australian Party, The Local Party of Australia, Victorian Socialists and the Western Australia Party.