Speech: Introducing the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023


There is nothing so powerful in all the world as an idea whose time has come.

Today I am delighted to be introducing The Greens Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023  to permit the adult recreational use of cannabis across the country.

This is the time to make this happen and it is a historic moment.

With just a sprinkling of political courage and collaboration mixed with a truckload of common sense we can make this law because it's time to end the war on cannabis.

It's time to stop pretending that consumption of this plant, consumed each year by literally millions of Australians, should still be seen as a crime.

It's time to seize the many opportunities that legalisation poses. This includes the $28 billion in public revenue, with provisions for a 15% Cannabis Sales Tax that can be initiated in the Lower House, that the Parliamentary Budget Office has told us legalisation can bring in in the first 9 years of operation.

It is the chance for tens of thousands of quality green jobs, new small businesses, enriched regional economies and the boon for tourism that will come with establishing a totally new legal industry. It is the opportunity to regulate the quality, strength and safety of a product that millions of Australians are already using, and it's the chance to radically reduce harm, literally overnight, by saving some 80,000 Australians a year from being caught up in the criminal justice system for possession of cannabis.

This move is based on legal advice which shows legalisation in the manner proposed in this Bill, through the registration and licensing of cannabis strains, is constitutionally valid at the Federal level.

Importantly we bring this bill to Parliament after having already taken it to the community to gauge their support and to benefit from the detailed submissions of almost nine thousand people who told us what they thought of our first draft of the bill and how it could be improved. We also received thousands of phone calls, emails and social media messages about the proposal.

Using the collective wisdom of these thousands of contributors who shared their knowledge and experience with us, we have refined the bill, strengthened it where necessary and believe we are now tabling the most popular and effective bill possible to legalise cannabis across Australia.

I'm so grateful for everyone who has taken the time to engage with this process and shared their expertise and lived experience. I hope that you all understand what an important part you have played in bringing us to this point. In many ways this is as much a bill owned by the thousands of committed supporters and campaigners as it is by the Greens or the parliament itself. This is a genuine moment of grassroots social reform pushing its way up through Parliament.

Everyone knows that it is not a matter of if we legalise cannabis in Australia, it's a matter of when, and today we're taking a huge step forward.

Before we dive into the legal technicalities of the bill let's take a step back and imagine the world, the very near world, where we have legalised cannabis in the way we are planning.

That's a world where you can pop by a cannabis cafe after work for a brownie or a tea to have some nice chilled out chats with mates. There is no push and shove, no aggression, just a relaxed time with friends helped along by trained staff who know how to responsibly serve cannabis.

It's a world where young people can go to a music festival and not be confronted by a wall of drug dogs.

It's a world where you can grab a gummy before a flight to calm your nerves.

Where a First Nations person can run a cannabis cafe in their local area, providing products that are safe, legal and grown on country. In that world their job is secure, the police don't hassle them and everyone wins.

It's a world where any adult who chooses can grow a few plants at home for their own consumption without worrying about a knock at the door from the police.

It's a world where consumers are informed, where products are safe and people know exactly what it is they are putting in their bodies.

To get to this world we need to legalise, not just decriminalise, cannabis. Under decriminalisation it is not a serious crime to possess cannabis but it is a serious crime to grow, manufacture or distribute it. This type of reform still gives police the discretion to search and prosecute, and it means no one can safely open a cannabis business. The experience around the world has shown this just isn't enough to rebalance the scales of justice. We need a model where people can legally grow cannabis, legally buy and sell cannabis, and legally consume cannabis. That's what The Greens are putting forward today.

We also see the obvious benefits in a single national legal market. This not only allows for a national justice win, it also means we will have a single well-regulated and coherent national market. While the moves by such a large number of US states to legalise cannabis have been extremely positive, the lack of a national market there has produced some unhelpful friction points at borders and ongoing tensions between State and Federal laws.

But at an even more fundamental level a national legal market just makes so much sense from a practical and justice perspective. Why should you be able to grow a plant in the ACT but not 10 minutes away in Queanbeyan? It makes no sense.

As we consulted on this reform we heard loud and clear that many people want the option of being able to grow a small amount of cannabis at home for personal use. That is why this bill permits the growing of up to 6 plants in a household for personal use without needing a license or paying any taxes or fees. There is also of course the opportunity to be part of a co-op and, with a licence, grow more than this for consumption or sale.

We know the community doesn't want an overly corporatised world which is why we've limited the involvement of corporate players explicitly excluding alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, and created opportunities for co-ops, for boutique cannabis cafes providing a chill experience for their customers, and for local dispensaries who know their communities and can provide knowledgeable information including on safe consumption. In short we are putting forward a plan to not just create a new market, but to do all we can to democratise that market and fairly share the opportunities and wealth that come with it.

We of course recognise the unique skill and expertise of those involved in medicinal cannabis already, and the bill contains an explicit exception to the prohibition on pharmaceutical companies engaging in the cannabis market, to permit licensed medical cannabis providers to legally operate in the recreational market.

When talking to the community about this proposal we've heard how overseas experience can frame this bill to make a world best practice scheme. There is a strong preference from overseas experiences that the bill offer a choice of products, clear labelling and knowledgeable service with advice around consumption and dose. People particularly like experiences with dispensaries and cannabis cafes and our model seeks to make these a core part of the legal market here.

While there is no doubt many politicians and commentators who want to stereotype people who choose to consume cannabis, we know that the support for this bill is very diverse across communities. Of interest is the fact that among those thousands of people we heard from, smoking is not likely to be the primary method of cannabis consumption. Our research shows that edibles, oils and tinctures are strongly favoured forms of consumption and we know from international experience that this trend away from smoking will only increase once a more sophisticated legal market is established.

You've told us you want to know what you're putting in your bodies. That is why the bill contains strong powers in the new national regulator to determine, by legislative instrument, requirements for labelling, packing and storage of cannabis products which could include requirements for clear labelling of cannabis products to include information on strength and quality, as well as growing conditions, safety and dosage information.

Whatever some police or cynical politicians might say, it's a hell of a lot safer to buy quality labelled weed from the budtender at your local cannabis cafe than a bag of who-knows-what from Crusher from your local organised crime gang.

For anyone who says it won't work, it's time to take a look around—the war on drugs is an abject failure, unless you consider over-policing of marginalised communities and providing billion dollar income streams for organised crime to be a success.

It's time to stop treating people who want to consume a plant as criminals.

The world has moved on and it's time for Australia to catch up. We could do this now, or we could kick it around for another decade while claiming it's all too hard. I know what option we're choosing and we're bringing millions of Australians with us. The time for legalising cannabis has come. Let's get it done!

I turn now to the mechanics of the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023.

The bill works by establishing the Cannabis Australia National Agency (CANA), which will have responsibility for licensing and regulating cannabis trade. The Cannabis Australia National Agency will have power to determine labelling, packaging and storage requirements for cannabis products including for example child safe packaging.

The Agency will have a CEO appointed by the Minister and staff. It is explicitly tasked with acting in the public interest, maintaining the register of strains of cannabis, issuing and overseeing licences, being available to test cannabis products as needed, seeking data about cannabis sales and use, approving responsible service of cannabis training, advising the Minister of the operations of the Act and any other functions as needed.

The scheme is grounded in a national cannabis register, compiled and operated by CANA. Under the bill people, or CANA on its own initiative, can register cannabis strains. Once a strain is registered it is open to be licensed for growing, manufacturing, selling and consuming. Licenses to undertake any of these cannabis related activities can be granted to any suitable person who applies, not just those who register the cannabis strain.

The registering of cannabis strains has no impact on existing intellectual property rights and it is the intention that strains registration will start with strains in the public commons.

Once law, the provisions of the bill that provide for the legal growing, manufacturing and consuming of cannabis would apply across the country, and override state laws to the extent they are inconsistent. The ultimate effect of this is to provide for a single, legal, national cannabis market.

The scheme leaves in place the existing medicinal cannabis laws and allows that market to continue without changes.

The legislation permits the issuing of licenses for cannabis sales including through dispensaries or cannabis cafes. At cannabis cafes any consumption by smoking has to be outside and is subject to applicable local laws around smoking. License conditions will include mandatory Responsible Service of Cannabis training and implementation.

We recognise that there needs to be consequences for breaches of the scheme for it to have a social license. Under the bill it remains an offence to import or export cannabis products unless authorised by a license. Without authorisation it is also unlawful to grow cannabis plants except where grown at home as part of the 6 plant cap for personal use. Unauthorised growing or sale of cannabis will be an offence with a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment or 200 penalty units.

It will not be an offence to sell small quantities of cannabis of a value of less than $50 so as not to unintentionally criminalise small scale sharing amongst friends. There are anti avoidance provisions in the bill to prevent businesses exploiting this exception by structuring a business to make large numbers of unlicensed small sales.

It's also not permitted to manufacture cannabis products except under a licence or for personal use. Again the bill contains provisions to allow for personal or non commercial sharing of a manufactured cannabis product, such as cannabis brownies or a cannabis cake, with friends or others in a non-commercial social setting.

To ensure the bill does not perpetuate the harms of the war on drugs against young people, but to also provide meaningful provisions to prevent access by minors, the bill provides that if a person aged under 18 is found in possession of cannabis the penalty is simply confiscation of the product.

The bill retains a criminal offence of selling cannabis to minors where the person knows, or is reckless as to whether or not, the other person is under 18 years of age. The maximum penalty that applies to this is imprisonment for 6 months or 200 penalty units, or both.

We also want to learn the lesson from tobacco, alcohol and gambling industries and stop a potential barrage of on-line and broadcast advertising from the beginning of the scheme. To this end the bill has a comprehensive prohibition on cannabis advertising with two targeted exceptions. The first is to allow point of sale advertising to encourage product development, product differentiation and to expand consumer information and choice. The second is to permit a limited online presence by a licensed cannabis cafe and in a form permitted by the regulations to allow people who cannot readily access a physical care or dispensary to access cannabis.

The Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 is a chance for politics to show it can listen, it can work across traditional divides, and it can act in the public interest. No one, apart from bike gangs and organised crime, benefits from the endless war on cannabis. This is the time to end that war and instead build a new and vibrant legal cannabis industry that is safer, more democratic and with a powerful social licence.

Then once we do that, by all means, let's have a long and hard political arm wrestle on where best to spend the first $28 billion in public revenue. I'm making a starting bid for schools, First Nations justice and climate action.

I commend the bill to the House.


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