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February 1, 2023

Federal Election 2019: a referendum on cannabis laws?

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Mia Armitage

Nimbin’s annual Mardi Grass festival seems appropriate for an Australian Hemp Party election campaign launch but to really get the point across, a police raid is even better.

Not that the Nimbin Hemp Embassy president and AHP’s NSW number two senate candidate, Michael Balderstone, planned either event to coincide with his election campaign.

‘All of us had to march out past the sniffer dogs and we’ve had to be outside for about four hours but [the police] were very courteous and reasonable,’ he told Bay FM Community Newsroom host Mia Armitage after the operation.

‘I mean, it shows how political cannabis is now’, Mr Balderstone continued.

‘With the election coming on and Mardi Grass starting, the timing was pretty extraordinary, very political I thought.’

Pot stocks and law reform so hot right now

The same could be said about cannabis as an election issue in general: with the phenomenon of a global so-called pot-stock market; cannabis legalisation in one way or another in Uraguay, Canada and Thailand; recreational cannabis now legally bought and sold in some states of America; and case after case of Australian judges highlighting inadequacies in cannabis laws, is the time right for Australia to reconsider its policies on cannabis?

The AHP has about 7,000 members but is only registered on a national level – the party was unrepresented in the recent New South Wales election.

Mr Balderstone has run for the senate a couple of times before but so far AHP candidates have never made it into parliament.

He describes the party’s presence in this year’s election as an opportunity for a pseudo ‘referendum’ on cannabis law reform.

But if Mr Balderstone did get into the senate, what’s the first thing he would do?

AHP priorities: RDTs, weed as a herb and ‘a few’ plants at home

‘Probably hire a lawyer to help me work out how to change the laws,’ he laughs.

‘I’d work my way through all the members of parliament to sit down with them and try to see where they’re at with cannabis because it’s all about education really,’ he says.

‘My job would be to talk to people and try to get them to hear we’re where coming from.’

Mr Balderstone says his first three priorities for cannabis law reform are roadside drug testing, separation of cannabis from other non-herbal illicit drugs and legalisation of ‘a few’ home-grown plants.

‘Our big nightmare has become roadside drug testing,’ he says, ‘you can be busted three or four days after smoking a joint, there’ll still be a trace of THC in your saliva.’

‘It’s very serious, people are losing their license, their jobs,’ he says, before mentioning this month’s new on-the-spot license suspension in NSW for drivers found with traces of cannabis in their saliva.

Industrial hemp a ‘huge earth saver’

The senate candidate describes AHP as a ‘single issue’ party but gets excited when asked about climate change and housing.

‘Pretty much I can relate hemp or cannabis to every subject,’ he says, adding that industrial hemp could be a ‘huge earth saver’ for climate change.

The cannabis advocate says hemp doesn’t need the poisons or water that cotton needs but can be more expensive to produce.

Hemp can be used for just about everything, Mr Balderstone says, because ‘it’s got a unique, strong long flexible fibre, much better than cotton’.

‘There’s a famous old hippy saying: we’ve discovered a plant that could save the planet, the only problem is it’s illegal.’

‘Make a mark for law reform’

The senate candidate says housing affordability is one of his particular favourite subjects.

‘I hate that so many people pay rent all their lives while other people own fifty houses,’ say Mr Balderstone.

‘I reckon you shouldn’t have more houses than children.’

But Mr Balderstone’s views don’t necessarily reflect AHP policy and he says if anyone from the party is elected later this month, members will discuss issues besides cannabis as they arise.

‘I don’t really expect anyone to get elected, it’s possible though,’ he says.

‘Make a mark for cannabis law reform, then make a vote for the party of your choice, [that] might be more realistic.’


♦ Listen to the interview with Michael Balderstone via Community Newsroom at Bay FM.

Community Newsroom airs on Bay FM 99.9 Fridays, 11am

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