The Greens' legal cannabis plan
Richard Di Natalie’s announced a new Policy last week – one which would see some Australians granted access to recreational cannabis for the first time. The proposal from the Greens party comes at a time which is seeing a great deal of change around the world, in attitudes to recreational cannabis. United States, Uruguay, and Spain have all legalised marijuana for personal use.
FACTDi Natalie wants to make cannabis legal for people above the age of 18. His motivation? To get the drug out of the hands of the drug dealers and to stop treating marijuana users like criminals.
Di Natalie wants to make cannabis legal for people above the age of 18. His motivation? To get the drug out of the hands of the drug dealers and to stop treating marijuana users like criminals. The policy is not just a headline, however.
Together with his goals, Di Natalie has presented an holistically considered policy framework, including restrictions on its sale and usage. In his own words: “We've got to take this out of the hands of criminals and dealers, (and) we've got to make sure it's within the hands of health professionals.”
Di Natalie has a reputation in the field of medical drugs and cannabis, which gives him a license to talk on the subject. “As someone who was a drug and alcohol doctor, I've seen how damaging the tough on drugs approach is to people,” he says.
Who is Richard Di Natalie?
Di Natalie, is a Senator and leader of the Greens political party. He was elected to the Australian Senate way back in 2010, and became the federal parliamentary leader of the Greens party in 2015.
He is known for his campaign against the Future Fund’s holding in tobacco funds. This mission ultimately turned out to be successful with the company divesting all of its tobacco holdings. He also has a track record on interest in revisiting the way cannabis is dealt with. Historically, he has asked a number questions in the parliament regarding the use of cannabis.
Details of Di Natalie’s proposal on the legalisation of recreational cannabis
FACTDi Natalie proposes a Cannabis regulation agency which would be responsible for issuing licenses (costing between $1500 and $3500 to obtain) for those who wanted to become marijuana retailers and growers.
The Greens propose the creation of an agency that would have sole authority in Australia as a wholesaler for cannabis. This body would monitor the sale and purchase of the drug. The same agency would be responsible for issuing licenses (which would cost between $1500 and $3500 to obtain) for those who wanted to become marijuana retailers and growers.
This is the first time that a Federal party has chosen to raise the issue of turning cannabis legal as a policy. Di Natalie’s approach would put cannabis at the same level as tobacco and alcohol, taxable and monitored by the federal agency. In essence, dispensing with the prohibition policy, this announcement aims treats the drug problem more as a health issue rather than a criminal issue.
- Those who use it, continue to use it but do so under the licensed scheme:
In Australia, nearly 7 million people in Australia have used cannabis.
- Minors would be prevented from purchasing:
Cannabis sale to minors would be strictly prohibited with penalties for anyone found to be selling cannabis to underage smokers.
- Strict controls on those who would produce the drug:
Only wholesalers who are licensed by the government agency would be allowed to deal with the drug.
- Likely to boost the budget by up to $1.8 billion per year:
Major components of this government income are licenses to produce and sell and tax on the cannabis sold.
- Tax revenues directed towards drug education and treatment:
Monies from tax would be used to boost education and drug treatment programs.
Roughly speaking, that money could fund 250 schools
One issue that’s raised from time to time is the relatively small proportion of government spending that the net positive income from cannabis would form. That’s largely true. Government budgets are over $300 billion per year so income from the proposed scheme by Di Natalie is less than 1% of that.
To give some idea of perspective on the matter, however, Total state and commonwealth spending in Australia on schools is approximately $53 billion in recurring expenditure. There are approximately 10,000 schools in Australia. That means each school costs approximately $250 million to run and the income from marijuana benefits could fund approximately 250 schools.
Note, Di Natalie’s proposal explicitly says that tax income from the scheme would be invested in to drug treatment and education programs, not schools.
What Could the economic impact of this change look like?
The policy announcement was followed up a few days later with some financial impact analysis from an independent source – the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO)
- $3.5 billion boost to the economy in the first 2 years:
Modelling shows a potential $3.5 billion boost by 2020 to the Australian economy from the policy.
- $20 per gram ‘street value’ used for calculations:
The price for cannabis under the model comes from the University Of New South Wales’ ‘Drug Policy Monitoring program’ which suggests the ‘street value’ is approximately $20 per gram. Current estimates are that people smoke approximately 10 marijuana cigarettes per week and would continue to do so.
- Tax of $25, GST 10% proposed:
Budget improvement comes from a number of sources including a 25% tax on sales of recreational cannabis and 10% GST at point of sale.
- Further savings on police and criminal justice system changes:
Other benefits come from a reduction in police spending on arresting marijuana users and within the court system which currently processes arrested users. (The Greens claim there are ‘literally hundreds of thousands of <Marijuana prosecution> cases.) Current AFP (Australian Federal Police) spending could be reallocated to the prosecution of other (more serious) drug activity including Ice and heroin.
- Cheap to implement – tax proposal uses existing infrastructure:
Costs for implementing the new tax schemes the policy require would be negligible, according to the PBO.
Summing up Richard Di Natalie’s proposal
Most political commentators we’ve seen say that the chances of this policy getting up are approximately zero at the current time. Di Natalie may even know this himself.
The Green’s policy is the first time, however, that a major party has broached the subject. While the two current mainstream parties, Labour and The Liberals scorn the idea (suggesting, among other things, that cannabis is a gateway drug – a claim that they should investigate and consider the science upon) there is evidence of movement in public attitudes in places as close as New Zealand. The issue is also being considered there. The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardem has offered to hold a referendum on the issue by 2021.
It takes time to change minds and for the country to adapt to the seemingly daily progress cannabis is making on the world stage. This announcement is simply one step on the path. Overseas interests, especially large Canadian interests are pursuing the same cause. Canopy Growth Corporation has hired the political lobbying company Crosby Textor to help in discussion with Federal and state governments.