Cannabis lobby backs Coalition

by Chris Griffith
Published 8 January 1996 in The Courier-Mail


my face


The ALP yesterday received another blow in the Mundingburra campaign with the surprise announcement that the pro-marijuana lobby would field a candidate who is likely to recommend preferences to the Liberal Party.

He is Steve Dimitriou, 46, from Freedom County, north of Kuranda.

Mr Dimitriou, who will stand for the Help End Marijuana Prohibition lobby (HEMP), yesterday said there would be no support for Labor under Premier Wayne Goss's leadership while he ruled out decriminalisation of cannabis.

"I'll make no bones about it. The name of the game is to knock out the Labor member for Mundingburra, and therefore knock out Mr Goss," he said yesterday.

"Mr Goss was elected on law reform, but he has failed to implement the party's policy on cannabis."

Mr Dimitriou said he had already stood ten times for federal, state, and local government elections on the cannabis platform -- in 1977 as a Senate candidate in South Australia, in 1994 for chairman of Mareeba shire, and most recently in Barron River at last year's Queensland election.

HEMP campaign secretary Roger Brand said Mr Goss was more conservative on the cannabis reform issue than some Liberal premiers, including Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett whom he said had acknowledged that prohibition had not worked.

Mr Brand said HEMP's average of just under four percent of the vote at last year's election would translate to 600 votes "which could tip the balance in Mundingburra".

"At this stage the Liberals will get our preferences by default. Labor has had six years in office and we still have a 15-year penalty for consumption of pot."

He said HEMP would also raise industrial hemp production, the banning of pipes which forced user to mix cannabis with tobacco, and the incidence of crime resulting from cannabis prohibition.

He said the state government had buried the Advisory Committee report on Illicit Drugs when it axed the Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee reviewing it -- chaired ironically by former Mundingburra MLA, Ken Davies.

ALP assistant state secretary Peter Shooter said the ALP's long-held policy on cannabis reform included making possession a civil and not criminal offence, and expunging previous records of criminal convictions.

But Mr Shooter would not comment on HEMP's entry into the by-election.

Liberal Party state director Jim Barron said it was a third party's right to decide where their preferences go, but he too would make no further comment.

Yesterday HEMP's threat of directing preferences to the coalition was given the blessing of a long-time opponent of cannabis decriminalisation, former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Sir Joh, whose government introduced the Drugs Misuse Act in 1986, said he was "not surprised" at the cannabis lobby's disenchantment with Labor.

"They are obviously prepared to try a different direction," he said.

"You'd have to be bonkers and a bit around the bend to keep on supporting an organisation or people you're disillusioned with."

But Sir Joh reaffirmed his long-held opposition to the decriminalisation of cannabis.

"I don't think anybody with any sort of real standards can bend the rules to go along with these people, to help these people, or go easy on them."

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman, who has defended many clients charged under Queensland's drug laws, said there would be no joy in HEMP backing the coalition.

"There has been a lack of leadership by both the conservatives in Queensland and Goss to make the possession of small quantities of cannabis like a traffic ticket offence as in other parts of Australia."

According to CJC research in 1993, cannabis is Queensland's second most valuable cash crop with a wholesale annual value of $283.6 million and street value of $632.8 million -- second only to sugar cane and more valuable than wheat, cotton, bananas, and tobacco.

The CJC also found that 93.6 percent of Queensland drug-related charges in 1991-92 were for offences involving cannabis. Over 80 percent of charges laid by the drug squad were also cannabis related.