The so-called “420” event in Melbourne is celebrated on 20 April in several countries around the world including Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. It is held on the 20th day of the 4th month of the year, hence the 420 nomenclature.
This year, Small Caps attended to gauge all sides of the argument and to find out to what extent has Australia changed with respect to seeing cannabis in a different light.
Just as people celebrate Mother’s Day, Anzac Day and even hamburger day, so too do some of the world’s cannabis users celebrate their use of a plant, with the potential to bring people together.
This year’s event was rather unique. For the first time in its history, the leader of a mainstream political party took centre stage.
Representing the Australian Greens Party, senator Richard Di Natale, made an appearance in the heartland of Melbourne’s business district in Flagstaff Gardens to make his party’s voice heard.
Speaking as one of the leading figures at this year’s ‘420’ event, alongside the event’s organisers Jason Foster and Matt Riley from Free Cannabis Victoria, a fledgling political party to help people overcome the prejudice, discrimination, persecution, and oppression of prohibition.
Speaking in unison with the event’s organisers, Dr Di Natale reaffirmed his party’s determination to see cannabis legalised — with various caveats attached.
Promoting the slogan “Just legalise it”, Dr Di Natale explained to a crowd of around 4,000 visitors (and open cannabis users) that cannabis should be legalised for adults and put in the same bracket as alcohol and tobacco.
Addressing a packed crowd, Dr Di Natale said that “It is the aim of the Greens Party to foster a new approach to policing cannabis. One that enforces licences for people to sell it so that people will know what’s in it and that what they’re getting is safe. Very importantly, we want to stop criminals getting rich off the back of cannabis.”
— Richard Di Natale (@RichardDiNatale) April 20, 2018
The senator and former drug and alcohol doctor said that “the people who love the fact that cannabis is illegal are people who make a hell of a lot of money from it and it is people like you who suffer the consequences,” referring to the 80,000 individuals that are arrested each year for cannabis possession, and who struggle with “limited life opportunities” for years to come due to the strict drug policy in Victoria and Australia.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of arrests associated with cannabis – nearly 80,000 people arrested last year, for doing what? For smoking a plant,” said senator Di Natale.
Dr Di Natale told Small Caps that his Greens Party would be announcing a dedicated policy with specific focus on economics this week.
“We will be disclosing our economic policy with regards to how legalising cannabis can raise revenues and make it safer to use. Bringing cannabis out from the cold and regulating the entire value chain would alleviate the pressure on the courts, on the police and take control away from street dealers.”
Cannabis winners and losers
Stories of cannabis users and the plant in general are highly varied with widely-mixed receptions.
Some people, predominantly cannabis users, claim the plant is a miracle drug that alleviates a wide range of physical and mental ailments.
There are also cannabis critics, who claim that cannabis is a gateway drug that deteriorates physical and mental health to the point of causing schizophrenia.
Rather extreme claims on both sides, to be sure.
The opposite view to what Dr Di Natale is proposing (a countrywide legalisation of cannabis or both medicinal and recreational use), came from the Victoria Police who deployed a dozen officers to maintain order and to “uphold the right” during the 420 event last Friday.
Senior constable David Grealish from Melbourne West Police, accompanied by junior officers Joshua Drewett and note-taking officer Kara Theodorou, said that the officers deployed at the event were simply following orders and didn’t necessarily agree with the policies set by Australia’s legislators.
“We are here to remind people that cannabis possession is illegal — even in minute quantities. We are taking people aside and technically arresting them, before releasing them without further charge. We want to make sure everyone knows what the laws are, although my officers and I are sometimes confused as to what the status-quo is. We are simply following orders and the law of the land says cannabis possession is illegal,” said constable David Grealish.
“There are thousands of individuals openly consuming cannabis here in Flagstaff Gardens today, so we’ve got a lot of work to do,” added constable Grealish.
“We haven’t made any arrests but we are speaking to people — especially underage individuals who serve as a good deterrent to others when seen being escorted away by our officers”, said constable Grealish.
Watching on as some underage users were taken aside to be “technically arrested” and their parents telephoned, Dr Di Natale said that “The war on drugs has failed, as you can see, it’s an unmitigated disaster. Slowly but surely, even the authorities are realising that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents,” said the senator.
The Greens Party hopes to establish an ‘Australian Cannabis Agency’ to issue licenses for production and sale of cannabis, monitor and enforce license conditions and review and monitor the regulatory scheme to ensure it is functioning for the benefit of society.
Under its planned reforms, adults will be able to grow up to six plants for personal use, but the Australian Cannabis Agency will impose strict penalties for the sale of unlicensed or black-market cannabis; the sale of cannabis to underage consumers and other breaches of license conditions.
“Our plan could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the Federal Budget, part of which would fund treatment, education, and other harm reduction programs, and we will be unveiling further details next week,” said Dr Di Natale.
ASX listed companies with exposure to cannabis will be watching political and legal developments closely to take advantage of any opportunities and also foresee impacts on their current businesses.