Organisers have dubbed the ‘Free Cannabis’ picnic held in Sydney last weekend a “huge success,” despite the heavy police and sniffer dog presence.
About 200 people turned up for the marijuana-legalisation protest, almost double the numbers from the previous rally. The group held joint rolling competitions, alongside stand-up comedy and speeches from pro-reform politicians and activists.
Free Cannabis NSW organiser, Chris Hindi, said the movement to “destigmatise” cannabis use was only going to keep growing with the cannabis picnics set to be a regular event held every couple of months.
“There are up to 2 million people in Australia who use cannabis regularly so we believe there is no reason to feel ashamed about it. We ask that everybody who has had enough of the ‘War on Drugs’ to come along and show their support”
“Everyone who came loved the atmosphere and had a great time with many saying not only will they be back but they will be bringing more friends along,” he said.
The group is part of broader movement that’s campaigning to see marijuana legalised across the country, for both recreation and medicinal purposes.
“I came here today because I suffer from chronic illness and marijuana has allowed me to get off all of the drugs I was taking,” one woman at the picnic said.
The protest ended at 4.20pm, with attendees lighting up joints and calling on the Government to legalise the drug. Despite the heavy police presence, which included several police from the NSW Riot Squad, no arrests were made.
This was the second picnic organised by the group, who already planning a third event for early June.
Campaign for Marijuana Reform Gathers Steam
This year has already seen two Australian Governments pass ground breaking marijuana reforms.
In February, the Federal Government announced that their amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act, which allow for the cultivation of marijuana for medical research and people suffering from serious illness, had successfully become law.
This week has seen another breakthrough, with the Victoria becoming the first state to legalise the use of medicinal cannabis. The Victorian bill will give children with severe epilepsy access to medicinal marijuana as early as 2017.
In New South Wales, Premier Mike Baird recently announced plans for a third clinical trial into the effects of medicinal cannabis. The previous two trials have focused on the effects it has on terminally ill patients and children with severe epilepsy, while the upcoming one looks at its effectiveness in treating chemotherapy patients suffering from nausea. Campaigners hope that that the trials will pave the way for a broader medicinal cannabis program.
According to Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, medicinal cannabis has a wide-range of applications and can be used to treat many other illnesses:
“Many prestigious scientific and medical organisations and reviews support medicinal cannabis… The conditions for which there is strongest evidence include: chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting; chronic non-cancer pain, especially due to nerve damage; wasting in advanced cancer and HIV infection; and muscle stiffness in multiple sclerosis.”
While this progress might be good news for some, it still means very little for those who hope to see the drug legalised for recreational use. While Governments around the world have begun fully decriminalising marijuana use, it seems unlikely that Australia will follow suit in the near future.
Recreational marijuana and New South Wales law
Under New South Wales law, cannabis is still a “prohibited drug.” This means that any activity involving cannabis is illegal – regardless of whether you’re possessing it, using it, growing it or supplying it.
In New South Wales, those caught with up to 15 grams of cannabis may, in certain circumstances, be given a ‘cannabis caution’. The first caution comes with information about the harm associated with marijuana use and a number to call for drug-related information. Any second caution requires compulsory attendance at drug counselling.
A person may be issued with up-to-two cautions before having to go to court, but at the end of the day there is no guarantee a police officer will decide to issue a ‘caution’ even if you meet the requirements.
If police decide to send you to court for cannabis possession, they must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you knew that you had the cannabis in your custody or that it was under your legal control.
That’s why the police will normally try to get you to talk, and admit to things they otherwise might not be able to prove.
In cases where more than one person has access to the cannabis – for example, where it is found in a shared house or in a car with several occupants – the prosecution must rule out, beyond reasonable doubt, the possibility that someone other you had possession.
If you’re caught with 300 grams or more, police may attempt to charge you for “deemed supply.” This means the law presumes the amount was large enough that you intended to supply it to others. If police can prove you possessed the required amount, you must then prove that the amount in your possession was not intended for supply.