Buying and using cannabis may become legal in Victoria by 2020
The Reason Party, a forward-thinking political party in Victoria, recently made an ambitious new policy pitch stating that buying and using cannabis will be legal in Victoria within the next two years. Now that the leader of the Party Fiona Patten has been re-elected as an MP (Member of Parliament) in Victoria, she has started working on cannabis legalisation.
Cannabis law reform is the top political agenda on Patten’s list for the 59th Parliament. The legislation, called the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Cannabis Regulation) Bill 2018, states that it is a bill to amend the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 to:
- Provide legal access to cannabis.
- Control and regulate the cultivation, manufacturing and supply of cannabis.
- Prevent the young population accessing the black market in order to obtain marijuana.
- Protect public health and safety by establishing strict product quality requirements.
- Deter criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties for persons operating outside the legal framework.
- Reduce the burden on the criminal justice system in the context of cannabis.
Patten will present the bill to the Victorian Parliament’s upper house on February 6 – the first sitting day of the new Parliament.
Patten has been a strong advocate for cannabis law reform in Victoria from a health perspective. She focused her attention on cannabis legalisation after Victoria became the first state in Australia to legalise medical cannabis for the treatment of children suffering from diseases that are resistant to standard treatments. Her plans to legalise recreational marijuana came after legislative success with voluntary euthanasia laws, buffer zones around abortion clinics and safe injecting rooms.
The current state of cannabis law in Victoria
In 2016, the Victorian government passed the bill to legalise medical cannabis for patients with debilitating diseases. Doctors in the state can now prescribe medical cannabis to patients to treat a range of medical conditions, including prescribing medicinal marijuana products for children suffering from severe epilepsy. Currently, there is no medical cannabis-specific manufacturing license scheme in the state.
Recently, the world’s largest medicinal marijuana firm, Canopy Growth Corporation, announced its plan to establish its Asia-Pacific headquarters along with the research and development centre in Victoria. This facility will introduce more than 200 jobs to the state and invest up to $16 million in the local economy. However, recreational cannabis remains illegal in Australia.
Ms Patten believes that Victoria, the most progressive Australian state, is ready for the change. She argues that marijuana has become far more accessible than cigarettes and the revenue is going directly to the black market. Legalising cannabis will eliminate the involvement of drug cartels and criminal organisations that provide Victorians illegal access to marijuana, and the revenue will go to the government. She wants cannabis to be legalised for possession, use and sale while subject to regulation as well as making cultivation and manufacturing subject to taxes.
Tax benefits of cannabis legalisation in Victoria
Figures from the Victorian Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) released in November shows that Patten’s policies make financial sense. Cannabis legalisation would generate $204.6 million in revenue for the Victorian government by reducing the costs of policing and sparking new revenue through the tax on sales.
The Reason Party requested these figures, providing cost estimates for two policy options – cannabis legalisation following the Canadian model, and decriminalising personal cannabis use entirely, as in Portugal. By adopting the Portuguese model of decriminalising cannabis for personal use, Victoria would save $168 million from the state budget. The Portuguese government decriminalised marijuana possession and consumption in 2001 and addicts are directed to health and social services, rather than to courts.
The Australia Greens party is also making the move to change Victorian cannabis laws, calling on the government to support a national scheme to legalise recreational cannabis for adult use. Community support for legalisation of recreational cannabis is widespread, with more than 45% of Australians aged 18-39 believing that marijuana should be legal.
Ms Patten has also proposed a new agency that would oversee the new cannabis legalisation, including production and licensing and the proportion of sales collected by the state. Cannabis legalisation makes sense, considering the world’s major economies are making this change, and it’s the time for Victoria to make a historic reform once again.