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Legalise Cannabis Australia party sees record Queensland Senate votes in federal election
Much has been made of the throng of Greens elected in lower house Queensland seats after the weekend’s federal election, but could another voting trend play into the state’s new “Greensland” nickname?
With 34 per cent of the vote counted, Legalise Cannabis Australia has so far garnered 74,972 Senate votes, a swing of nearly 5 per cent from their 2019 results.
Their candidate Bernard Bradley is within striking distance of the sixth Senate seat, ahead of high-profile minor party candidates Clive Palmer and Campbell Newman.
As the count stands, Pauline Hanson will keep her seat in the upper house, but the UAP’s chances are floundering and Mr Newman’s Liberal Democrats are behind Legalise Cannabis.
Whether they catch Senator Hanson and One Nation or not, the party has likely ensured they will receive AEC funding for exceeding 4 per cent of the Senate count in Queensland.
Party president Michael Balderstone has been involved with the party since its origins in the northern New South Wales town of Nimbin in the early 1990s.
Back then, the party was known as Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party.
Mr Balderstone said the decision to change the name prior to the 2022 race helped the party cut through, but getting people to publicly campaign remains a hurdle.
“Not many people want to wave their arm around and say, ‘Yeah! Yeah! I smoke weed!’ whereas, you know, old hippies like me from Nimbin, it’s expected of us,” he said.
“Generally, most of our candidates were genuine medical cannabis users and people on the ground who are campaigning have got a strong passion.”
Pain relief and the cost of medicinal cannabis are a pillar of the Legalise Cannabis 2022 campaign.
“They mocked us for a long time, you know, for saying cannabis is a medicine – we were ridiculed,” Mr Balderstone said.
“Now it’s accepted and anyone in Australia can get legal medical cannabis through their doctor, but it’s pretty much grown in Canada or grown indoors.
“We could all be growing our own medicine.”
Raylene Herd is one of the 75,000 who voted for the single-issue party in Queensland.
Ms Herd has terminal cancer and uses medicinal cannabis to ease the pain, but it is not cheap.
She receives around $1,860 a month in disability pension, but between $1,000 and $1,300 of that goes to her cannabis prescription.
“It doesn’t leave you a lot of money to live with,” she said.
“I lost everything. I couldn’t pay my mortgage, I lost my house, I was homeless for a while and now I’m living with my 89-year-old father.”
She said the cost of her pain medication pushes her budget to the extremes.
“After I get my medication, I’d be lucky to have $200, $300 a fortnight and that is for everything — that is to try and keep the car registered and petrol, that is trying to put a roof over my head, get food, everything,” she said.
“I will barely eat, that’s basically what it comes down to. I buy fresh food when I can, mainly fruit.
“Sometimes I buy ice cream and stuff to make smoothies to try and bulk myself up, but I’m losing weight horrendously. Because of cancer and because I just can’t afford to nourish myself.”
She said without the medicinal cannabis she is “curled up in a ball in pain”, and the pharmaceutical options are simply not viable, wearing off too quickly and inducing a “spiralling circle of pain and pharmaceuticals and vomiting”.
“Unless you have experienced the difference, you wouldn’t understand it,” she said.
Queensland is where Legalise Cannabis Australia has had its strongest showing outside of the Northern Territory, where its 2,664 votes translate to 7 per cent of the vote.
Mr Balderstone said the national campaign was run on a shoestring budget after the party spent more than $30,000 entering candidates in every state and territory, but lead Queensland Senate candidate Mr Bradley contributed money to the campaign in the Sunshine State.
“Queensland did have more money and energy for the campaign, maybe that made a difference,” Mr Balderstone said.
He also noted there have been nearly 130,000 applications for medicinal cannabis in Queensland, more than double any other state.
“Medical cannabis, I think, got more of an open green light in Queensland early on in the licensing of it. That’s possibly helped too — to a lot of people from Queensland on medical cannabis,” Mr Balderstone said.
“[There’s] a lot of retirees in Queensland, and cannabis is fantastic for chronic pain or crook backs or if you can’t sleep.
“A lot of people have discovered it legally. That’d be part of it, too.”
Or perhaps, he said, it was just the general laid-back nature of the state’s constituents.
“I think Queensland is just more relaxed, probably,” he said.
Adjunct professor of politics at Griffith University Anne Tiernan said she thinks the higher vote for Legalise Cannabis is more likely a reflection of a disgruntled electorate.
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Even so, she was surprised by their success, especially compared to the UAP.
“Isn’t it extraordinary that the [United Australia Party] got so little a return on its investment of just vast amounts of spending and advertising and the Legalise Cannabis party has done so well,” she said.
“It really begs the question about whether they then want to build a platform and a network – those small parties have often really struggled to do that, so it’s probably a better result than they were expecting, but [it’s] just indicative of how the major party vote splintered and fragmented across the state and across the nation.”
Dr Tiernan said it was “a bit of a stretch” to assume this result was the beginning of a political wave for the party, but said it was important for any party to reach that magical 4 per cent.
“It means that they’ve got a financial platform to build on in a way that they didn’t before,” she said.
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Mr Balderstone said the party’s main goals were now education and getting rid of the stigma.
“Our job really is to re-educate people on the truth, and that’s getting out there,” he said.
“The statistics are coming out of America … people don’t get criminal records they’ve got to carry all their life.
“It’s changed and people realise it isn’t the spooky thing it was — we’ve been lied to.
“The word is out there that you can change this law and legalise weed and the sky doesn’t fall in.”
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This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service.