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Australian Legalize Cannabis Party Runs Successful Grassroots Election Campaign

The Legalize Cannabis Party, formerly called the Help End Marijuana Prohibition Party (or HEMP), showed impressive results during the Australian Senate election. It narrowly missed out on securing a Senate seat at Queensland’s best, as there were the highest number of patients. However, the single-issue party clearly saw gains. They also won two seats in the Western Australian House.

The Legalize Cannabis Party advocates for “positive policy reform relating to cannabis for both health and personal users.” It has been organizing for reform since the late 1990s. They also know how to run a savvy grassroots campaign—which clearly paid off for them this year.

But does this success at the polls—even if a narrow miss at elected office in the Senate—mean that AuStralia is ready to legalize cannabis during the term of Anthony Albanese, the country’s 31st prime minister?

Some people are not so sure—pointing out that despite the dramatic increase in support in just six years that has led to a slight majority of Australians who want to legalize cannabis, there are other factors at play. National polls showed a pro-cannabis bias in 2019, but 78% said that they wouldn’t use it even if legal.

The same scenario was played in New Zealand’s 2020 national elections, where cannabis reform was also up for referendum. It was narrowly defeated.

Steps to Reform

It’s easy to forget that much of the vertical’s content is foreign to people outside of it, especially if you are working in this industry. Despite larger and larger numbers of the “cannacurious,” the tide has not quite clicked over in even the United States or Germany—perhaps the two countries right now closest to full and federal recreational reform.

Many lawmakers in particular, want more evidence to back up their support—usually calling for more studies, or a gradual approach that starts with “medical reform,” first. It does create an industry infrastructure, as seen in Germany. The problem, as so many countries are finding out (particularly in Europe) is that this does not solve the issues faced by patients—from affordability to decriminalization of possession and limited home grow for personal use.

The German industry has already discovered that it might not be able to solve its regulatory and infrastructure problems.

Regardless, this is, if there can be a “conventional wisdom” about this so far disruptive industry, the traditional path that every legalizing country has followed so far. Namely, medical reform always comes first. Perhaps with an additional twist, like in the U.K. where regulated CBD markets are included.

Australia and New Zealand follow the same pattern almost exactly.

Is Australia and New Zealand still far from full reform?

It is an excellent question. The trajectory of Europe shows that it took Germany five long years and a national election to overthrow the ruling party. However, even then there will be delays and problems. The bill is still not being introduced in Germany (although it will happen this summer, and should be passed before the end of 2011).

This transition in Canada took 17 years, starting with the Supreme Court’s decision that patients have the right and obligation to self-grow.

In the United States, not counting California’s medical transition in 1996, it has so far taken 8 years for there to be serious discussion in the Senate after numerous legalization bills have succeeded in the House.

There is one thing certain. It is clear that the tide has changed everywhere. Even though Australia, New Zealand, and Australia have both burgeoning health markets, they may not be ready for full reform. However, each year the proportion of those who are in favor of this idea increases.

It will take time. It is not difficult to see the reform happening elsewhere at the same pace.