South Australia Democratic State Member of Parliament (MP) Sandra Kanck is her party leader and only MP in the state legislature, but the party is moving to dump her after she stood up in parliament to say that Ecstasy "is not a dangerous drug" and could have been used to ease the trauma of victims of last year's killer bushfires. Kanck remains unbowed and has vowed to serve out the two years remaining in her term even if given the boot by party honchos.
According to Substance Abuse Minister Gail Gago, 112 "Ecstasy-related" deaths were reported in the country between 2001 and 2004, and the Australian federal government spent $23 million last year in an advertising campaign warning against Ecstasy use. Last month, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty warned that young Australians believing Ecstasy was relatively safe was "by far the biggest drug problem" facing the country.
"Quite disturbed" by what she called "an emerging trend of conservatism in politics," MP Kanck let loose with a no-holds-barred counterattack in Adelaide. "I remind members who might think that all drugs are evil that Jesus partook of wine. He did not have any silly laws that said 'this drug is legal, and this one isn't legal'," she said. Turning to Ecstasy in particular, Kanck then committed political heresy. "We have been told that Ecstasy is a dangerous substance. We do not have the evidence," she said. "The original 1985 listing of Ecstasy, or MDMA, is still being contested. So more than 20 years later, the matter has not yet been resolved."
Alluding to the compound's aborted history as a therapeutic agent before its popularity among Texas frat boys in the 1980s led to its banning in the US and elsewhere, Kanck even suggested it could have helped people cope with last year's fire disasters. "In fact, I was saying to people last year after the bushfires on Eyre Peninsula, with all the trauma that was associated with it, that one of the best things you could probably have done for the people on EP who had gone through that trauma was to give them MDMA," she said. "However, one dare not advocate that, because we are all being tough on drugs, aren't we?"
The reaction from Australian drug warriors was predictable. Kanck's remarks were "beyond belief," conservative Family First MP Dennis Hood told the Adelaide Advertiser. Kanck had clearly "lost touch," he said. "It is very disappointing."
But reaction from her own party was also harsh. Prodded by party president Richard Pascoe, the state party executive has called a meeting of the party faithful to decide Kanck's future. There is "a lot of confusion and concern" among party members about Kanck's comments, he said.
Kanck doesn't seem to mind. She is "riding on a high" after receiving widespread support for her stance, she told ABC Radio. "I didn't receive a single phone call from a party member saying, 'What are you on about?' The calls I've had have all been incredibly supportive -- so much so I'm almost riding on a high at the moment." There had been calls "from former members saying, 'You've got my vote back -- I didn't vote for the Democrats last time and you've got my vote back now,'" Kanck said.
Kanck also took advantage of the hubbub to clarify her remarks. "My advice to people about illicit drugs is to stay off them, but it is my hope there will be a properly informed discussion about drugs," she said. She was not advocating the recreational use of Ecstasy, she said. "I am quite certain that once people read my speech in its entirety, they will have a different perspective," she said. "My comments related to the pure form of the drug, which is being trialed in the US. My view about drugs is, if you possibly can, to get a message across to all young people not to take any of them -- licit or illicit -- until you're well into your twenties when an adult mind is more able to cope with the decision," she said.
The Advertiser has posted the full transcript of Kanck's speech online.