The health minister announcing Australia’s pledge to extensive cannabis research
Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, announced that the country will provide $3 million for research into the cannabis’ effects on cancer. This comes as the demand for medical cannabis continues to increase, and the number of quality clinical studies into medical cannabis efficacy remain quite few.
The announcement came during a fund raising event that was led by singer and actress Olivia Newton-John, who was diagnosed with cancer for the third time last year. Newton-John praised cannabis for being “important” to her journey, stating that she is “a great proponent of it, for general health, for pain, for sleep, for anxiety.”
The singer and actress has been an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana, voicing her opinion that “everyone” should have access to medical cannabis. At another event, the Wellness Walk and Research Run in Melbourne, Newton-John told the crowd that medical cannabis helps makes her feel “fantastic”. The singer actress has also pledged the proceeds of her upcoming auction of over 50 items, including the famous leather jacket worn by her character in the movie Grease.
But there may be a bigger picture to this recent funding for medicinal cannabis research — recreational cannabis legalisation.
Medical cannabis generally precedes recreational cannabis
The global cannabis trend is real. Cannabis is now completely legal for recreational use in Uruguay, Canada, and South Africa.In the United States of America, the drug is legal for recreational use in 10 states and the District of Columbia (soon to be 11 states when Illinois’ legal recreational cannabis law goes into effect in January).
But prior to recreational cannabis, most of these regions had lengthy debates and experiments with legal medical cannabis through legislation and judicial decisions. For example, Canada went through several years of attempted cannabis legislation, as well as judicial rulings answering questions about the constitutionality of cannabis use for medical purposes. The country eventually legalised cannabis for medical use with a prescription in 2001, after a 2000 Ontario court decision stating that those with medical conditions have a right to possess cannabis. Seventeen years later, recreational cannabis use became legal as well.
The United States is another example of medical cannabis preceding recreational cannabis. There, after vilifying cannabis use for years, the debate slowly began shifting to a more objective view. California then became the first state to legalise the drug in 1996, but for medical use only. Oregon, Alaska, Washington, and Nevada followed suit with their own medical cannabis laws to close out the 1990s. The first recreational cannabis legalisation then came — in 2012 — when Colorado and Washington led the way. Today, medical cannabis is legal in 33 states in the United States.
Even neighboring New Zealand seems to be following the same route. First, New Zealand legalised medical cannabis last year, and then announced that a referendum on whether or not to legalise recreational cannabis will be held next year, 2020.
Australia seems to be on a similar path
Australia legalised medical cannabis in 2016. This, of course, came after much debate and shifts in public opinion. Initially, Australians in need of the drug for health conditions went through a very lengthy, clogged process. The prescription process remains a bit slow today, but the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has streamlined it a bit, showing a lot of improvement.
Recently, the capital passed legislation legalising recreational cannabis. Canberra became the first city in Australia to do so when Greens and Labor party MPs in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) pushed the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill 2018 through.
What’s most notable about the ACT’s recreational cannabis law is that the federal government is unlikely to challenge it. The federal attorney general, Christian Porter, has pointed out that, although the ACT’s law contradicts federal law, the bill is for the ACT to decide.
More recently, though, Porter has pedaled back a bit. The Attorney General now claims the Commonwealth will make a decision on whether or not to challenge the ACT on the legal recreational cannabis bill after he reads the final copy.
We doubt any challenge will take place, but the dialogue is certainly a sign of further action. After health minister Hunt publicly announces Australia’s $3 million pledge to cannabis research, alongside an outspoken medical cannabis supporter who believes the drug should be made available to “everyone”, it’s difficult to see how the government might decide the right move is to interfere with Canberra’s decision to legalise recreational cannabis — especially in today’s climate where public support for recreational cannabis legalisation continues to rise.
Cannabis has been legal for medical use since 2016. We now have an Australian territory where the bold first step of legal recreational cannabis has taken place. That’s route typically leads to nationwide legal recreational cannabis, or at least legal recreational cannabis in other states.
The health minister’s announcement that Australia will provide $3 million for studies on medical cannabis’ effect on cancer is a positive step. Cannabis is already legal for medical use in Australia, and one would expect such government funded research to have occurred prior to medical cannabis legalisation. The fact that it is coming now, leaves a lot to interpretation. Perhaps this is an indication of a recreational cannabis debate on the federal level. Perhaps the results of such research might dispel any concerns associated with the potential harms of a legal recreational cannabis law. One certainty, though, is that medical cannabis legalisation generally precedes recreational cannabis legalisation. With the ACT already taking the latter step, it’s not hard to envision the Commonwealth (or other states) following suit in the near future.