NSW election: Legalise Cannabis eyeing an upper house seat in bid to overturn drug-driving law

·4-min read

When Antony Zbik was handed a “life-changing” medical cannabis prescription almost six years ago, he did not realise it would also rob him of his freedom.

While the treatment helped the 38-year-old with crippling pain caused by fibromyalgia, it also forced him to move back home and become reliant on his parents to drive him around.

It is illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your body in New South Wales. There are no exceptions, even for people using cannabis for therapeutic reasons. This makes it illegal for Zbik to use his forklift licence or drive a car, leaving him unable to pursue his dream career.

“I wanted to be a roadie for bands but it’s an impossibility now,” he said. “I should be having my own independent life but this is stopping me.”

Related: Australia spends billions ‘failing to police’ cannabis that earns black market $25bn a year, Greens say

Zbik says halting his medical cannabis treatment was not an option.

“If I stop, the pain and tremors return and I have to go back to hospital.”

Zbik is one of the Legalise Cannabis party’s dozens of lower house candidates campaigning for drug law reform before Saturday’s NSW election. While he does not have much chance in the seat of Parramatta, his party is pinning its hopes on winning an upper house seat.

Legalise Cannabis hopes to build on successes in last year’s federal Senate race and the Victorian elections. In Victoria they picked up two seats and have since gained bipartisan support to overhaul drug-driving laws for medicinal cannabis users.

Jeremy Buckingham, a former Greens MP turned Legalise Cannabis upper house candidate, was confident he could be elected with a strong campaign using regional TV and commercial radio.

“To this point, our success has just been on the basis of people turning up and just picking us out,” he said.

“This time around, they know we’re on the ballot.”

The party has also been helped by donors including the biggest individual donor to the federal teals, Rob Keldoulis, as well as former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s son, Alex Turnbull.

Buckingham wants to bolster the hemp industry he claims has been ignored because of cliches about “stoners and dope heads” and push drug-driving law reform.

“We have a system in place which is a massive disincentive to people,” he said.

“You can get in the car tomorrow, test positive … and lose your licence. There are impairment tests that can be used.”

Related: Decriminalising cannabis could save Australian taxpayers $850m a year, report finds

The party has a chance of snagging a seat but the number of progressive smaller parties on the ballot will probably work against them, according to Simon Welsh a pollster at RedBridge.

“There’s a lot of public sympathy and public agreement with the core proposition – to legalise cannabis – but that crowded marketplace in that independent minor progressive vote is going to make it hard for them,” he says.

Ben Raue, an election analyst says the progressive offering has a “good shot” on the back of solid numbers in Victoria, Western Australia and federally.

“I think a lot of it’s driven by the party name,” he said.

There’s a tight race for spots in the upper house, with the Greens and One Nation also vying to increase their representation on the crossbench.

Drug-driving law reform will remain a key priority for the Greens in the next term of parliament.

Related: Coalition lags Labor in election promises that bolster NSW budget, official costings reveal

“Our state’s drug-driving laws are broken,” the party’s drug reform spokesperson, Cate Faehrmann, said.

“A focus on the presence of THC instead of impairment caused by THC is leading to thousands of motorists who are completely sober being charged with drug driving offences.”

She said the state needed “urgent investment in developing technology that detects actual impairment caused by drugs”.

Labor has committed to looking at regulatory reforms as part of a drug summit if they form government.

The Coalition does not plan to consider reforming its drug-driving laws but would monitor developments as part of commitments made in a road safety action report.