Understanding Trends in News
The topic of cannabis use for medical and recreational purposes is a heated discussion point for many Australians. With the legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes sweeping various areas of the globe, Australians have become more educated and vocal about the subject.
A number of people seek to have cannabis permanently outlawed in society, predominantly due to misinformation and conservative prejudices. With many more grasping the innumerable benefits of marijuana for the state and its citizens, the nation has seen increased conversation around the subject.
The State of Cannabis in Australia
Cannabis is one of the most widely used illicit drugs in Australia. According to a household survey conducted by the National Drug Strategy in 2016, 35% of Australians aged 14 years and older have used the drug at least once in their lifetime. Cannabis use among the general population remained stable between 2001 and 2016 (12.9% – 10.4%). 36% of cannabis users report frequent weekly use of the substance.
Despite the frequent consumption of marijuana by Australian citizens, the government has taken a stand against its recreational use. Marijuana has been illegal for personal use in Australia since the 1920s although in 2016, under the Therapeutic Goods Act, cannabis was made legal for medicinal purposes.
In many states and territories, Australians have become more vocal about their desire to see cannabis stripped of its illegal status and made legal for adult use. Telephone polls conducted by the Greens political party have confirmed the growing support of decriminalisation and legalisation nationwide.
In Tasmania, more than 1,100 Tasmanians were surveyed. It was recorded that 59% of these Australians supported the move whereas 28% opposed it. In Denison, 63% favoured decriminalisation and legalisation while 23% were opposed. In Braddon, 59% of the population support the motion.
In Canberra, local politicians are seeking to legalise cannabis for personal use and possession. However currently, selling the drug remains an illegal offence. Individuals would be allowed to carry up to 50 grams of the substance and grow two plants per residence. This bill was proposed by Labor party member, Michael Pettersson.
Although the bill received massive support, Chief Minister Andrew Barr states that the legislation may still be delayed for several months. Reporting to the Canberra Times, he says, “The new standing orders of the Assembly require all amendments to go through a scrutiny process, so if there’s any contention around a piece of legislation in the Assembly it will take three sitting periods effectively for it to be resolved. So we intend to have a measured and detailed debate both on the principle of the legislation and any subsequent amendments.”
On Medicinal Cannabis
Marijuana has been legal for medical use since 2016, under specific conditions. As a relatively new industry, the medical cannabis industry is finding its feet and still has many complications.
In Canberra, medical marijuana is legal for use by adults. However, patients face a new and unexpected challenge as they are effectively unable to find a physician who will prescribe cannabis products for use. This has turned many patients away from medical marijuana programs as they simply opt to buy illegally from the streets.
Australian law requires medical cannabis to be prescribed by an authorised prescriber. Authorised prescribers are physicians who are expected to “have the training and expertise appropriate for the condition being treated and the proposed use of the product”, “be able to best determine the needs of the patient” and “be able to monitor the outcome of therapy.”
In many cases, patients are faced with numerous challenges when meeting with their physicians. According to Benjamin Graham, the Executive Director of Chronic Pain Australia, “The GP [Physician] either doesn’t know too much about it, they really aren’t comfortable about it, or they say there’s no research or evidence to support medical cannabis.”
Currently, there are only 58 approved physicians who can prescribe marijuana for TGA approved ailments. This is a relatively tiny number when compared to the number of patients the scheme attracts.
In New South Wales, Health Minister Greg Hunt has granted “direct and immediate access” to medicinal cannabis. According to Hunt, the government has significantly slashed the approval processing time for medical marijuana. Now, patients only require a single clinical assessment under the Therapeutic Goods Administration. This could shorten the process, which under normal circumstances could have taken several weeks, to just a few days.
With each passing day, Australians grow increasingly receptive to the idea of marijuana having an increased role in society – for medical purposes, recreational purposes, or both. Many political personalities are leaving behind fear-based preconceptions about marijuana and researching to make informed opinions. The Australian cannabis industry should be set to flourish if these supporters get their way.