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Byron Shire
March 1, 2021

A whiff of optimism over legal cannabis

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Cannabis packaging by the late artist Geoff Williams. Photo supplied

Paul Bibby

For more than 20 years the intricately designed stickers sat, carefully wrapped, on Geoff Williams’s bookshelf, waiting to be released into the world.

Featuring a tongue-in-cheek depiction of a gumnut baby smoking a joint, they were designed by the local artist as cannabis packaging – a subtly subversive homage to the campaign for legalisation.

The stickers were discovered by Williams’s son, Sam, as the family sifted through the artist’s studio following his death in 2015.

‘He said that there was a feeling at the time that it would be potentially legalised,’ Sam says.

‘Something was in the air and people felt like there might be a breakthrough.

‘He had strong feelings about it – scoffing at politicians who talked about the “rule of law” and bringing the whole thing back to the police enforcing oppressive laws in a “free society’.’’

This week, two-and-a-half decades after Williams finished the work, attention is again focused on the fight to legalise cannabis as locals prepare for the twenty-sixth annual MardiGrass protest and gathering in Nimbin.

Though the type of breakthrough Geoff Williams and others dreamed of still seems a long way off, MardiGrass organisers like Andrew Kavasilas feel momentum is building once again.

‘We’ve got hemp-seed food finally commercially available and the debate over medicinal cannabis has never been hotter,’ says Mr Kavasilas, from the Hemp Embassy.

‘The public is there – it’s ready for change. What we don’t have is the politicians and the media owners with the backbone to say “this war [on cannabis] has failed’.’’

Politically, the debate over legalisation has been brought back onto the agenda in the past fortnight by the Greens.

On April 17 they became the first party with seats in federal parliament to call for full legalisation of cannabis for Australian adults.

‘Governments around the world are realising that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents,’ Greens leader Richard di Natale said in announcing the policy.

‘It’s time Australia joined them and legalised cannabis for adult use.’

The Greens have proposed that a special government agency be made responsible for the production and sale of cannabis, saying this would guarantee quality and take distribution ‘out of the hands of criminal dealers’.

Predictably, the backlash from the major parties and the mainstream medical establishment began within minutes of di Natale’s announcement.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bull Shorten categorically ruled out supporting the policy as did the Australian Medical Association, meaning it will almost certainly remain little more than a topic for debate.

The major parties have shown somewhat greater willingness to move on the issue of medicinal cannabis.

Last month, in response to the absurdly long time taken to process medicinal cannabis requests, federal and state governments agreed to streamline the system.

Under the new regime, a patient only needs approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration rather than from both that body and the health department in their state or territory.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt boasted that it would cut waiting times to just 48 hours.

However, as one long-time medicinal cannabis campaigner quipped, this is likely to mean ‘nobody can have it in two days, instead of nobody can have it in three months’.

Recognising that the vast majority of medicinal cannabis users access the products through the black market, NSW Labor has just reintroduced a bill under which registered patients could buy blackmarket cannabis without fear of prosecution.

But premier Gladys Berejiklian and her coalition colleagues have stubbornly refused to support the shift, meaning that most medicinal cannabis users are just one roadside drug test away from prosecution.


The organisers of the MardiGrass are once again expecting a heavy police presence at the event, including the possibility of police sniffer dogs, and are quietly suggesting that patrons bring a ‘designated driver’.

Andrew Kavasilas says the impact of the police presence on those attending will come down to the police’s attitude.

‘If they decide to stick to the letter of the law and inflict as much harm as possible, that’s really a backward step,’ he says.

‘But we recognise that a lot of the time the individual police are the meat in the sandwich. They can see that the MardiGrass is a peaceful event 99 per cent of the time, but they have their orders from the hierarchy and of course they have to enforce those orders.

‘Hopefully this year they will take part in the “tug of peace” event with us again – a tug of war between the police and the Hemp Embassy.

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  1. Time to change the term “black market” to “people’s market”. Economically speaking, being in the black is positive anyway, yet the term has such negative connotations. The People’s Market should remain tax-free and unhindered from unrelated influences such as government, who are only there to provide infrastructure and provide law and order for the economy to operate fairly…. not to steal from it


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