SYDNEY - Australia's HEMP Party formally launched its election campaign on Monday with a call for cannabis to be legalized for personal and medical use, just as it is now for industrial purposes.
Members of HEMP - Help End Marijuana Prohibition - inflated a 10-meter (33-foot) plastic replica of a joint outside the state police commissioner's office in Sydney and said Australia's jails were overflowing with people criminalized for no good reason.
"America has given us huge encouragement," said HEMP president Michael Balderstone. "Half of America now has access to medical cannabis and now they've started to get new regulations for recreational cannabis. So, you now, the wall is down there and no big deal, the place hasn't gone crazy."
Amid amused-looking office workers enjoying the lunchtime sunshine in a park in the city center, cancer patient Jenn Lea handed out HEMP Party leaflets calling for parliament to end what she called discrimination against cannabis.
The mother of three, who has chronic regional pain syndrome and breast cancer, said she would not be alive if not for hemp oil and she wanted to be able to buy it without breaking the law.
"Disgusted at my country but I'm proud that I've finally taken some initiative and I'm fighting for my rights to medicate," she said.
"I want to live. I don't want to be put off in some respite center to die. I'm 35. I have children. I want to be here."
The HEMP Party is fielding 12 Senate candidates from six states in the federal election on September 7, including B.J. Futter, a herbalist from New South Wales who says legalization is inevitable.
"I understand that we are not going to get elected this time round. My hope is that we shake the foundations of those that are in power," Futter said. "This plant will be legalized. It's just a matter of when."
Industrial hemp can be grown legally under license in Australia but the HEMP Party wants to extend that to consumers by regulating the sale of cannabis to remove the criminality of the black market.
It also wants to establish a commercial hemp industry producing fuel, oil and other environmentally sound products.
(Reporting by Stuart McDill; Editing by John O'Callaghan and Robert Birsel)