The Australian Green Party (http://www.greens.org.au) is making marijuana law reform part of its national campaign strategy, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported Sunday. The party will challenge Prime Minister John Howard's zero-tolerance drug policies and call for uniform national marijuana laws, according to ABC.
Currently, the states of Western Australia and South Australia, along with the federally-controlled Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The states of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria still treat simple possession as a criminal offense. In practice, however, few people are jailed over simple marijuana offenses.
Still, the issue is seen as a potential vote-getter, and not just by the Greens. The Howard government three weeks ago launched a new offensive against marijuana, with Australian National Council on Drugs chairman Brian Watters leading the way with a new booklet that will "tell the truth" about pot and challenge the rise of the "pro-marijuana lobby."
"I think there has been a really concerted effort in some quarters to trivialize its effects," Watters told the newspaper The Age. "The pro-marijuana lobby has done very well. They are very, very active." Watters said his booklet will act as a counterbalance by presenting the latest research in "a balanced, non-ideological way."
The Greens, for their part, kicked off their campaign at the Mardi Grass festival in Nimbin over the weekend. Queensland senate candidate Drew Hutton used the occasion to announce the campaign and to declare Prime Minister Howard's approach to drug policy a failure. Every state should adopt laws that allow individuals to use, possess, and grow small amounts of the weed, Hutton said.
"You remove, as a part of the criminal justice system of this country, you remove the involvement of the criminal underworld in these sorts of areas and you remove the problems about criminalizing young people," Hutton said.
The campaign for uniform pot laws is hardly a departure for Australia's Greens. The national party's platform plank on drugs is clear: "The regulation of drugs should be moved outside the criminal framework. In a democratic society in which diversity is accepted, each person has the opportunity to achieve personal fulfillment. It is understood that the means and aims of fulfillment may, for some people at particular times, involve the use of drugs."
Drugs should be classified and regulated based on their known health effects, the platform plank said. "Programs operating among users of addictive drugs should focus upon harm minimization. Less addictive drugs [such as marijuana] should be more freely available as in the Netherlands model, as research shows that such availability mitigates against the use of hard drugs."
Among its specific drug policy proposals, the party includes "allowing the regulated supply of cannabis at appropriate venues" and "decriminalization, leading to eventual legalisation of cannabis cultivation and possession for personal use, while monitoring the effects of this in relation to the health of young people."
But while the Green platform is breathtakingly progressive, the party itself is far from being a powerhouse in Australian politics. It has only representative in the Australian House and two in the Senate, leaving it far behind the leading Liberal and Labor parties, and trailing even the Australian Democrats and the Nationals.