The Cannabis Referendum – a rare victory for conservatives.

By John Subritzky - The referendum was truly a David and Goliath battle. The Say Nope to Dope campaign was the sole group out there promoting a “no” vote. Against it were nine other groups, many of them benefitting from having government funding.

Like any issue, there will be different perspectives in the PK community. What made me personally concerned was the data out of Colorado especially around rocketing levels of THC and increased usage. I have also been concerned for years about the link to schizophrenia when people consume both alcohol and cannabis, after I worked with a man with exactly that diagnosis.

Bob McCoskrie, Aaron Ironside and Nick Tuitasi were tireless in their campaigning. Aaron Ironside, who is familiar to many who have been to PK, was employed as spokesperson. He was magnificent in the media with short, concise soundbite answers to any question. Aaron’s personal experience, media savvy and quick wits meant that he presented extremely well. The significant media bias meant that Aaron often only got an interview after an outlet was challenged about the lack of fairness in coverage. What was unseen were the death threats and hate mail that Aaron received. Even more difficult for him to navigate was having some relatives with opposing perspectives. It is seldom easy to stand for what you believe is right.

At the end of the day, several factors guided people to vote no. Cannabis use is already quasi decriminalised, with Police for the last year directed to treat it as a health issue for individual users. You are very unlikely to be charged or to go to prison solely for personal cannabis use. There are major concerns about safety for youth and the links to psychosis.

People were not convinced that the proposed legislation would reduce harm. Those in more vulnerable communities are already targeted for higher numbers of liquor stores and pokies. They know that if the government cannot control those now, then they are at significant risk of being over-represented by the proposed 420 cannabis stores.

It is interesting to see how outsiders viewed the campaign. “The Spinoff” was very pro cannabis, so this is some high praise indeed. Alex Braae attended a meeting at Gore and wrote “McCoskrie speaks without notes, and only barely glances back at the PowerPoint giving the top line points. But he never loses his place in the script. Each point is made with a short, snappy sentence, an elaboration, and then an example or piece of evidence to back it up. It’s textbook stuff: clear and concise. 

…Even though David Seymour and Chlöe Swarbrick have worked hard, there isn’t necessarily the same unified and motivated wider network for them to mobilise. 

…it seems clear that the Say Nope to Dope campaign has out-worked and out-messaged pro-legalisation campaigners, with the balance of polling starting to seriously shift. The old sporting analogy about one team “just wanting it more” occurs to me a lot during the presentation – Family First knows how to win.”

The last statement is quite ironic when you consider that this may be the first issue that Family First has won in over a decade. With the small team and the low level of resources available, Bob McCoskrie and the team have done a top-notch job advocating against legalisation of cannabis.

The next battle is never far away.

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