With Greens MP Cate Faehrmann’s admission recently that she has taken illegal substances, what better opportunity to ask the three state election candidates about their own drug use?
Three candidates that have so far declared their intention to run for the NSW election seat of Ballina on March 23 are incumbent MP Tamara Smith (Greens), Asren Pugh (Labor) and Ben Franklin MLC (Nationals).
The Echo asked all three if they had ‘ever taken an illegal substance, and if so, what?’
Local Ballina MP Tamara Smith told The Echo, ‘It’s difficult to answer this question publicly but it’s time we had an honest conversation about drugs because the war on drugs has failed.’
‘In my younger years I smoked pot and I tried ecstasy.’
She said, ‘The real issue is whether or not we take steps to protect people’s lives because people do try substances – legal and illegal – that can harm them.’
‘I believe we need to treat personal drug use as a health issue and that it is by increasing education, counselling and support for people that we will reduce drug use – and that’s a good thing.’
Ben Franklin MLC (Nationals) told The Echo, ‘Like many others of my generation, I tried marijuana when I was at university. I have never taken any other illegal substance and have not smoked marijuana since then.’
Franklin reiterated his position on pill testing and said, ‘On a personal level, I am not opposed to the consideration of pill testing. However any policy change in this area must be evidence-based and developed after advice from local and international experts and examining experience from around the world. I think it’s very difficult to do that during the heightened emotional climate of an election campaign.’
Labor candidate Asren Pugh told The Echo ‘Yes’.
‘In the past I have tried an illegal substance, marijuana and MDMA, a few times, but those days are firmly behind me.’
Pugh also responded to comments by Nationals candidate Ben Franklin, who told The Byron News (Newscorp) last week that ‘the [pill testing] issue cannot be considered rationally and sensibly during the heat of a campaign.’
Pugh said, ’The whole reason we have an election campaign is to tell people what we stand for, who we are and what we believe in.’
Slogans v policy
Pugh said, ‘Slogans just don’t cut it.
‘So is Mr Franklin saying that this election is not about policy? I am in this to talk about ideas and try and make this area, my home, a better, safer and even more beautiful place to live. I am in this to talk about what I would do to make life a little bit easier for my community. And that means having the courage to have the hard conversations and talk about hard issues.’
Greens MP Smith agreed with Pugh that the public debate on pill testing and drugs should be had.
She said, ‘It is absolutely ridiculous to duck the issue by claiming we can’t talk about this at the exact time that the public deserves to have real answers to real questions before they vote.’