EXCLUSIVE: Michael Balderstone, the president of Legalise Cannabis Australia, has revealed his party are aiming to run in NSW and Victoria following their impressive performance at the recent federal election. The Nimbin local wants both roadside saliva tests and the negative stigma surrounding cannabis use to be changed. Nour Ahmad reports.
Likely the last thing mainstream political parties were expecting was to get smoked by a relaxed, marijuana-focused party at the recent federal election. However, that’s exactly what happened.
The Legalise Cannabis Australia Party, formerly known as the Help End Marijuana Prohibition Party (HEMP), made headlines a few weeks ago when they garnered between 2% and 7% of the Senate vote in most states and the Northern Territory. In Queensland, their 6.7% vote outpolled Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party’s and even gave Pauline Hanson’s One Nation a very good run for its money.
Even more stereotypes were slashed when it was revealed the Senate candidate for QLD, Bernie Bradley, is a criminal defence solicitor who doesn’t even smoke weed.
Currently, with 87.6% of Queensland’s vote counted, Legalise Cannabis is still beating out the United Australia Party in the typically conservative sunshine state – with a 5.3% vote to the UAP’s 4.2%.
Billionaire Clive Palmer spent close to a whopping $100 million on his campaign and, considering that his obnoxious yellow billboards seemed to be lurking behind every other corner in the country, it’s clear where the majority of the spending went.
On the contrary, the Legalise Cannabis party president Michael Balderstone told True Crime News Weekly his party spent a maximum $30,000 on their campaign, which was only just enough to get candidates nominated.
Legalise Cannabis Australia’s two-word slogan left Clive Palmer’s $100 million campaign in the dust (Image: Supplied / Legalise.org.au)
The Party’s president, who answered the phone from his HEMP embassy in the quaint northern NSW town of Nimbin was initially difficult to reach due to an unpredictable phone line – which he explained was caused by the area’s intense flooding. After calling back on a landline phone, Mr Balderstone gave a cheerful greeting and revealed his party have high hopes for the future.
“We had no money for the campaign really,” he confessed, “but I think we’ll get funding from Queensland as long as they stay over 4% and we’ll be able to run a much bigger campaign next time.”
Balderstone, who has been a cannabis user for 50 years, said the great result in Queensland was “really heartening.”
“We were very pleasantly surprised but I think not totally surprised … a lot of the word is out there on cannabis now and there’s some big roadblocks ahead.”
Mr Balderstone revealed his party is registered to run in the NSW Election next March and are hoping to get registered to run in Victoria by the time of its state election later this year in November. He is also optimistic they will be able to get candidates in the House of Representatives.
“We could, definitely. Especially if it’s in close seats, we can make a difference getting between 5-10%, which I reckon we get in some lower house seats if we focused on it.”
Mr Balderstone expressed this cause is important to him because of the “drug fueled war” costing billions of dollars and leaving millions of lives ruined and in jail.
“[The government] has made nature’s best pain killers illegal,” he stated.
Blunt in hand, Michael Balderstone lead a humble campaign (Image: Supplied / Facebook)
The former stockbroker became involved with Legalise Cannabis after educating himself on the history and the prohibition of the plant, but he only realised how huge the drug war was when he moved to Nimbin nearly 40 years ago.
“None of the parties wanted to talk about it in the election, because they are all scared of being labelled soft on drugs … the drug war is the biggest business on the planet.”
Mr Balderstone then touched on the importance of medicinal cannabis.
“People will give you the shirt off their back if you can take their pain away and make them feel good and cannabis is good for that,” he said passionately.
When asked whether he believed votes were coming from people who were tired of mainstream parties, Balderstone responded there may be an element of that but that his voters all believed in legalising cannabis.
The Nimbin local also showed his disapproval for roadside tests, which lead people to cop heavy fines, lose their license or even be imprisoned.
Recently, roadside saliva testing for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component that makes you feel ‘high’, is being conducted more and more across Australia. However, researchers at the University of Sydney found that these roadside tests did not accurately indicate how stoned a driver is.
More recently, a study by the same lead researcher proved that even taking the highest levels of cannabidiol (CBD), a component found in medical cannabis, did not impair driving.
“It’s just busting people who aren’t impaired at all and just got the presence of THC, maybe from something they smoked days ago,” he said.
This view was shared by Sam Kidd, a campaign director for Unharm, who are advocates of drug reform policy.
“[Roadside testing] is just one example of how out of touch with reality and with evidence our current laws in regards to cannabis are,” Mr Kidd told True Crime News Weekly.
New polling from Unharm and Essential Research shows that 50% of people support cannabis legalisation, double the amount from 2013. Additionally, 58% of people surveyed support people with prescriptions growing their own cannabis at home.
Mr Kidd believes Michael Balderstone’s success is also proof that people are becoming more accepting, and revealed that Unharm are going to be pushing the NSW and Victoria elections as an opportunity to further drug reform.
“We’re looking at jurisdictions that have the best prospects in the short term and Victoria is looking highly possible as they just finished a parliamentary inquiry into legalising cannabis last year,” Mr Kidd said.
“We’re want to mobilise people who are passionate about reform and build a campaign that can give our politicians the push they need to make this important change.”
Mr Balderstone also wants change soon and believes that Australia is getting left behind, noting that California has had legal cannabis for 25 years now, and encouraging a cottage industry in Australia.
“People can grow special cannabis strains for different ailments,” he said. “In America, you go to a dispensary and, if you’ve got arthiritis, they will serve you a little plant specifically for that ailment.
Mr Balderstone believes there have been a lot of lies told and people have been subjected to fear-based campaigns when it comes to cannabis.
“No one has ever died from cannabis so you can’t kind of kill yourself with it, it’s a pretty safe herb.”
The conversation came to a natural end and Mr Balderstone had a humble final message for his supporters: “Just thank you for everyone who voted for us.”