Here’s a look at cannabis legalisation in Australia in 2018.
Legal cannabis had a challenging journey in Australia throughout 2018. Many top political parties proposed bills to legalise cannabis fully or partially, and public support for leglisation remained high in the last year.
The year was full of activity, although none resulted in the actual legalisation of the drug for recreational use. However, regardless of last year’s outcome, the fact remains that cannabis was certainly a hot topic in 2018, and such a fact is hardly ever negative. As 2017 saw the legalisation of cannabis for medical use, 2018 followed with surprising developments, such as the laws authorizing the export of medical cannabis. As cannabis discussions stayed in the news, it kept the debate relevant with more than a tinge of optimism for a completely legal cannabis nation.
Perhaps the next 12 months will see more progress as a result of the discussions that have been made so far. In fact, with the current supportive public climate, along with the progressive political proposals taking a positive look at cannabis legalisation, it may not be long before Australians can legally purchase the drug for recreational use.
Here’s a quick look at the last 12 months of Australian cannabis discussions and proposed legislation:
January 4: Australia announced plans to approve medical cannabis exports.
In January 2018, Australia took a step aimed at becoming the fourth country in the world to allow cannabis exports. The reform was the federal government’s attempt at boosting opportunities for domestic manufacturers. It also allows Australian doctors to prescribe high-quality marijuana products to their patients.
The proposal needed the approval of the federal parliament in the next session, but the main opposition Labor Party had already signed its support.
February: Export of medicinal cannabis products was legalised.
Australia legalised the export of medicinal cannabis products through the Narcotic Drugs Amendment (Cannabis) Regulations 2018. This law allows cannabis sprays, pills, lozenges and soils produced in Australia under a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) licence to be sold overseas, especially to South America, Canada, Spain, and Germany. Also, products listed as export-only or registered in the ARTG (Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods), as well as cannabis extracts manufactured under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 Licence, could be exported to other countries.
March 2: New South Wales simplified medical cannabis access.
The New South Wales (NSW) Government joined the Commonwealth to simplify access to medicinal cannabis by introducing a streamlined, single application process. Previously, doctors seeking approval for prescribing medical cannabis had to apply through both the NSW Government and TGA, each with a possibility of different outcomes. With the new approach, doctors would get quicker approval of medical cannabis prescription, usually within 36 hours, rather than waiting for months. This helps cut red tape and remove unnecessary barriers in the process of prescribing medical cannabis to qualifying patients in the state.
March 27: Victoria planned to investigate legalising recreational cannabis.
In a report, the parliamentary committee in Victoria recommended the formation of a council for investigating global changes in marijuana use and other considerations involving comprehensive cannabis law reform.
Fiona Patten, who tabled the report in Parliament, said she completely supports the adoption of recreational cannabis regulations in Victoria. She said the current illegal cannabis market in Victoria valued around $8 billion, which was a lot of money that goes to blackmarket criminal organisations. She said legalisation would take the business out of the hands of criminals and add it to the government’s revenue.
April 16: Greens announced a plan to legalise cannabis for all adults.
The Greens became the first party holding seats in Parliament to call for full cannabis legalisation in Australia. Greens leader, Richard DI Natale, said the existing law for cannabis was failing.
He proposed an Australian Cannabis Agency that would be given a monopoly over the wholesale supply of cannabis to shops while collecting millions of dollars in a taxes from consumers. He argued his party’s proposal would not lead to widespread use and sale of cannabis and claimed there would be strict regulations on production and sale.
May 9: Bill to legalise cannabis introduced in parliament.
Liberal Democrats Senator, David Leyonhjelm, introduced a Bill to the Parliament for amending the law under which cannabis is considered as a controlled drug with associated penalties. The Bill would remove Commonwealth barriers to the legalisation, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Leyonhjelm’s main argument was that adults should be allowed to smoke cannabis freely. By contrast, the Greens proposed to legalise cannabis fully, but in a highly regulated market.
Senator Leyonhjelm’s Bill was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 17 August 2018.
June 21: Victoria positioned to lead Australia on medicinal cannabis.
The world’s largest medicinal cannabis company, Canada’s Canopy Growth Corporation, invested $16 million in setting up its Asia Pacific (APAC) headquarters and research and development centre in Victoria. It positioned the state to lead the medical cannabis industry in Australia and generated 200 jobs in the state.
July 2: South Australia's cannabis crackdown.
As countries and several Australian states were looking to relax legislation around recreational cannabis, South Australia went in the opposite direction. The state’s Attorney-General, Vickie Chapman, proposed increased and harsher penalties and imprisonment for use and possession of cannabis.
South Australia became the first Australian state to decriminalise minor cannabis offences in 1987. The highest penalty for cannabis use or possession in the state was $500, and the most common fine was $125 for carrying 25 grams or less.
However, Chapman’s proposed legislation elevated the amount of fine to the maximum fine of $2,000 and up to two years in prison. Drivers caught under the influence of cannabis face a $75,000 fine and 15 years jail.
August 23: Australia saw a significant increase in the number of medical cannabis patients.
The streamlined process for medicinal cannabis started producing positive results in terms of increasing patient count. According to collected data, the New South Wales health regulator shows that they approved medical marijuana for 322 applicants since the state improved the process in March. It further increased the number of patients in Australia to more than 1,000 for the first time.
September 14: Inquiry rejected the bill to legalise cannabis.
A Senate committee rejected Leyonhjelm’s proposed plan to legalise cannabis that was introduced in May. Leyonhjelm said that cannabis was less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, and an existing ban on the drug increased organised and violent crime. He argued that legalisation would ease the burden on police and add up to $300 million in GST (Goods and Service Tax) revenue per year.
However, the committee considered that risk of cannabis outweighed the potential benefits of legalisation, as the drug was linked to mental illness, brain defects, and respiratory illness.
September 19: ACT private member’s bill to legalise cannabis was submitted.
ACT Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson submitted a private member’s bill to legalise cannabis to the ACT’s legislative assembly. The bill proposed amendments to criminal laws to permit cannabis use with legal possession of up to 50 grams. Additionally, it would permit people in the territory to cultivate up to four cannabis plants for personal use.
The bill ultimately proposed a shift in cannabis regulations to bring the territory in line with global trends and reduce the burden on the criminal justice system.
The bill had the unanimous support of the capital's Labor minority government and only needed one extra vote from either the Liberal Party or the Greens Party.
October 20: A report found Australia missing out on over $5 billion by not legalising cannabis.
Findings by the global firm, New Frontier Data, suggested that legal recreational cannabis in Australia would be worth more than $5 billion annually. According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 84 percent of nationals supported the legislation of medicinal cannabis while 35 percent supported recreational use. Support is overwhelming and more widespread among the young population; with half of the population, aged 18 to 39, in favour of a regulated and taxable cannabis market.
Increasing support for cannabis legalisation in Australia. Source
November 21: Reason Party planned to legalise marijuana in Victoria within two years, if elected.
Reason Party MP (Member of Parliament) Fiona Patten revealed its plan to legalise cannabis for recreational use in Victoria by 2020. The bill has already been passed by the Upper House and is now seeking support by either Labor or the Coalition.
The policy would save the state $204 million, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, by reducing expenses on policing and adding a new revenue stream through taxes.
November 27: Greens introduced a bill to legalise cannabis for recreational use and growing.
The Australian Greens party introduced a bill into parliament proposing a highly-regulated legal cannabis market for adults in the country. The bill proposed the creation of an Australian Cannabis Agency (ACA) that would regulate the cannabis market nationwide. It would allow people to grow up to seven plants at home without paperwork or worrying about prosecution.
December 3: Australia may soon fully legalise cannabis.
After decades of national prohibition and the constant efforts of the leading parties in the country, Australia’s attitude towards legalisation is changing fast.
A recent poll involving 94 percent of ACT (Australian Capital Territory) residents suggests that most of the nationals overwhelmingly support the legalisation of recreational cannabis use. While these figures represent the support of ACT’s residents only, they indicate the country’s increasingly positive attitude towards cannabis. Growing acceptance and awareness have driven both the ACT and Northern Territory to decriminalise marijuana use in the last decade.
The past 12 months have seen a volatile cannabis environment, with fluctuating news regarding the drug. As support for full legalisation is no doubt increasing, proposals seem to falter at late stages of the legislative process. None of this, however, changes the fact that cannabis legalisation is a trending discussion, and trending discussions usually follow the gaining trend. In this case, as support for full legalisation of cannabis steadily increases, the gaining trend calls for such legalisation. Considering this changing attitude towards cannabis, it’s likely that Australia will soon legalise the drug.