The Role of Government in Changing the Law

Cannabis in Australia

Cannabis is one of the most popularly consumed illicit substances in Australia. The country ranks as one of the highest consumers of cannabis in the world, even making the top ten lists. The Oceania region – inclusive of New Zealand and the Pacific Islands – accounts for an estimated 12% of the world’s global cannabis consumption.

12% of the world’s cannabis users are in the Oceania region. Source

The Australian government maintains contrary views on the topic of marijuana for recreational consumption. Since the 1920s, cannabis has been illegal within the nation’s borders. It was only recently – in 2016 – that the use of marijuana for specific medical conditions was passed into law via the Therapeutic Goods Act.

These laws, however, do not echo the reality of the citizens. Several surveys and studies have shown that a lot of Australians use and support cannabis legalization. A survey conducted by the National Drug Strategy in 2016 indicated that 35% of the population, aged 14 and older, have used the drug at least once in their lifetime. An estimated 36% of the population consumes cannabis on a weekly basis.

Understanding the legislature

The Australian government is divided into three arms, namely:

  • The Legislature;
  • The Executive; and
  • The Judiciary.

These arms of government maintain independence from one another but work together in order to maintain decorum across the country. Let’s focus on the legislature for now.

The Australian legislature – otherwise known as the Parliament of Australia or the Parliament – is the arm of government responsible making laws. Under section 51 of the constitution, the legislature has the power to debate and vote on new laws which will govern the nation.

The parliament is bicameral – divided into two houses – consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The House of Representatives – also known as the ‘lower house’ – is made up of 151 members, with each representing an electorate. The Senate – or ‘upper house’ – is made up of 76 members. Each state is represented by 12 senators and each territory is represented by two.

How does the legislature work?

The movement of bills to law within the parliament works in the following manner:

  • A bill is introduced by a minister of either house (senate or representatives). A few bills have been introduced by other members of parliament, though they seldom make law.
  • The members of parliament deliberate on the bill. In some cases, bills are sent to senate committees for further scrutiny. These committees delve deep into the tracts of the bill, presenting a more detailed analysis of it. Different committees sit over different policy areas.
  • On passing the parliament, a bill is presented to the Governor-General for signing into law. This process is called a ‘Royal Assent’, and it’s the final step in passing a bill into law. In certain situations, the Governor-General may seek to review certain aspects of the bill but this seldom occurs.

The gradual shifts on the stance of cannabis by members of parliament

Following the legalization of cannabis for specific medical conditions, numerous members of parliament (MPs) have become vocal about their support for the legalization of cannabis in the nation. Richard Di Natale, leader of the Green Party and Senator for Victoria, is at the forefront of campaigns for legalization nationwide along with the Green Party in general. As reported on SmartCompany, the legalization of cannabis takes centre stage on the Green’s campaign for the forthcoming federal elections.

The Greens seek to create a pro-cannabis Australia where the cannabis industry is duly regulated with a fully controlled, established market. This market will cater to the sale and production of cannabis and cannabis-related goods.  Under this policy, Australians will be allowed up to six plants within their private residences. The Greens seek to improve on some of the framework set for medical cannabis – which is already operational in the nation.

Public opinion on cannabis legalisation has changed significantly over the years, causing the Australian government to consider changing cannabis laws. Source: CannabisExpress

 The Greens urge the Labor Party to blaze the trail on pro-cannabis legalization. Certain members of the Labor Party seek to legalise cannabis alongside the Greens. One of such MPs is Michael Pettersson, a Labor party backbencher.

In 2018, Pettersson proposed a bill which would legalise the use of marijuana for recreational purposes within the Australian Capital Territory (The ACT). The bill was met with massive support by both members of the Labor and Green parties. In fact, the bill already passed the majority requirement to be passed into law.

However, the bill has now been delayed due to new parliamentary laws which govern the ACT. According to Chief Minister Andrew Barr, the passing into law may not be forthcoming until mid 2019.

Whatever the case may be, the overwhelming support of members of parliament on the legalization of cannabis in the ACT proves one thing; Legalisation may be on its way sooner than we think.

Final words

The Australian the parliament is responsible for the formation of the laws which govern society. It consists of two houses, namely the House of Representatives and the house of Senate.  Members of parliament are charged with the responsibility to introduce bills which could then be turned to laws. These bills are influenced by a number of factors including party ideology, research and public opinion. This is how the government effects social change.

However, social change also pushes the government to act. That seems to be the case globally as public opinion on cannabis use continues to trend upwards, and governments revise old laws as a result. Australia is no different. A number of developments within the government over the past few years suggest that cannabis may, in fact, become legal for recreational use in Australia eventually. Public opinion effected that change in the medical cannabis use sense, and is likely to do the same for recreational users in the future.

Published by Neil

Neil believes Cannabis has medical benefits and should be prescribed by a Doctor. This site aims to provide accurate information on the science and legality of Cannabis so you can make informed decisions.

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