By MATTHEW JOHNSTON, STATE POLITICS EDITOR
If you travel to Canada or some US states this year, you might find ganja gummy bears, marijuana macarons or even “Chill Gum” for sale.
Those are just some of the products emerging since cannabis was legalised in certain jurisdictions.
While most US states still have laws penalising use of the drug, a sign the industry is now more normalised came when mega-bank Goldman Sachs expressed interest in cannabis-related investments.
And next year, when New Zealanders vote, they will also be asked via referendum whether they support the legalisation and regulation of cannabis.
In Australia, some state MPs have been watching developments closely. Reason Party MP and leader Fiona Patten, who says she has been a “recreational cannabis user for most of my adult life”, is chief among them.
Last week, she had a motion for a parliamentary inquiry supported by most MPs in the Legislative Council.
What was important about this move was the breadth of parties that backed it in, including the party in government.
It is also important to look at the wording of the inquiry’s terms of reference and the process Patten undertook to get to what — deep down — she would probably concede are those fairly soft terms.
Patten, as she makes clear in her contribution to parliament, initially wanted a committee to look at commercial legalisation of cannabis. As usual, she did her due diligence to see what might fly in the Upper House, rather than just wing it.
Say what you want about the former Sex Party leader, she is focused on getting an outcome rather than purely grandstanding.
In order to get something that 18 government MPs (including Dan’s gatekeeper, Gavin Jennings) were willing to endorse, Patten wound the motion back to focus on the size of the criminal industry (worth $8.1 billion), the effect on police, the best way to stop kids getting hold of weed and public health measures for addiction.
That might sound a bit limp to some readers (or a bit too much for others!) but this was how Patten managed to get what she says will be a “conversation about cannabis” into a potentially potent forum.
This cautious approach is similar to the tactic she used when pushing for voluntary euthanasia, which stemmed from an inquiry into “end of life choices” that ostensibly gave both sides of the debate a say.
In parliament, many MPs supported the cannabis inquiry last week on the basis that the “war on drugs has failed”. Liberal Democrat David Limbrick was true to his party’s mantra by saying “we could use the power of economics to kick organised crime in the teeth by legalising cannabis”.
His comrade, Tim Quilty, said criminals ran the cannabis industry and that meant “the government is currently protecting those criminals by restricting legitimate competition”.
Liberal MP Georgie Crozier offered a counterpoint to the pro- legalise stance, saying the drug was “often a gateway to harder substances and harder drug abuse”.
The former nurse said she didn’t want to see people get on to the “terrible, terrible spiral that destroys their lives”.
Former policeman Stuart Grimley, now a Derryn Hinch Justice Party MP, said his party’s dear leader often says cops waste too much time “arresting plants”.
“Sometimes, I tend to agree with his comments,” Grimley said.
Another former policeman, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Jeff Bourman, slammed the inquiry and said there were more important things MPs should be considering, such as homelessness.
Government MPs were conscious of linking the inquiry to the mental health royal commission.
But Labor’s Sonja Terpstra said: “This is a government of action when it comes to alcohol and drugs. We do not shy away from the reality of the problem.”
Some MPs noted that the medicinal cannabis industry is in its infancy in Australia.
The Andrews Government brought in laws to allow medicinal cannabis to be prescribed by any doctor for any health condition — as long as they have Commonwealth and state approval.
Federal laws also allow doctors to prescribe cannabis.
In my view, this was opening the door to, one day, a bigger regulated cannabis industry.
There are many arguments against legal marijuana, including that it could tempt more people to dabble in drugs that could lead to harder substances, cause driving deaths and have dangerous side effects.
Arguments for legalisation and regulation are to tax and monitor sales and health concerns, treat drug-driving like drink-driving and tackle criminal industries that use “weed” to make money for other nefarious projects.
But it’s all much more complex than that, on both sides of the equation.
There are also many more issues that will be thrashed out during this inquiry.
But the fact the government has allowed the conversation to occur, while cannabis is being grown in Australia for medical purposes, has released a curious political scent into the air.
We have seen during recent state parliaments that innocuous parliamentary processes can later bloom into radical policy.
Some of you may think I’ve been chewing on ganja gummies before writing this, but I can envisage a day we will see, for better or worse, marijuana macarons for sale in Victoria.