Support for cannabis increases in the face of opposition
Canadians cheered and honked their car horns when, in October 2018, the government made a historic move and legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.
Now the question is, will Australia follow in the footsteps of Canada and legalise recreational cannabis for adult use? If so, what is the federal government planning? And what could Australia learn from Canada?
The federal government in Australia legalised medical marijuana back in 2016, a year after the death of medicinal cannabis campaigner Dan Haslam, who battled with bowel cancer. Haslam gained national attention in 2014 when he and his family went public with his positive experience with marijuana in cancer-related pain management.
Now, the two major parties – The Greens and the Liberal Democrats – want to see cannabis freely traded and used in Australia. Despite the burgeoning Australian cannabis market, these are the only two parties supporting the legalisation of recreational marijuana. Labor, the Nationals, and the Liberals are so far all opposed.
The Green’s leader, Richard Di Natale, says cannabis prohibition has failed in Australia. Governments around the world are realizing that cannabis prohibition does more harm than good. Many supporters are calling for Australia to join other countries in legalising marijuana for adult use. Natale says, though cannabis for recreational purpose is illegal; this has not stopped Australians from using it. They somehow manage to get it illegally, streaming money to the pockets of criminal organisations and gangs.
Australians’ money on illicit drugs mostly goes to the cannabis market.
Australia has the highest number of cannabis users
Pot is the most widely used drug globally, with nearly 15 percent of cannabis smokers from the Oceania region of Australia and New Zealand, followed by North America and Western Europe.
Cannabis use in Australia
According to J. Copeland from the NCPIC, Australians smoke cannabis, commonly in the form of the cluster of flowering heads or the resin glands of the female marijuana plant. A survey conducted by the National Drug Strategy Household in 2007 suggests that nearly one-third of Australians aged 14 years or older had used cannabis in the previous 12 months.
An anonymous survey of 115,000 people revealed that over three-quarters of the 5700 Australian respondents had used illegitimate drugs in the last month. They were consuming more cannabis than legal drugs, including caffeinated drinks and tobacco, followed by cocaine and LSD.
According to Professor Louisa Degenhardt of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, cannabis is now easily available in most countries. By and large, it’s the most commonly used illicit drug worldwide. He adds illicit drugs, with marijuana topping the list, kill 1.3 percent of people in Australia, surpassing alcohol- and tobacco-related deaths.
The Current State of Cannabis Legalization in Australia
Medical cannabis is legal in Australia, to be used to treat pain caused by debilitating diseases such as cancer, HIV, end-of-life conditions, treatment-resistant epilepsy, arthritis, Alzheimer, and severe depression.
As of now, medical marijuana is legal in Victoria, Queensland, NSW, ACT, Tasmania, WA, SA, and the NT. Qualifying patients should ask their doctor to prescribe a medical cannabis product. The doctor then gains approval from the Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and health department in the patient’s state or territory to integrate marijuana into treatment plans. But those who are not eligible to use legal medical marijuana for treatment might choose other legal paths to access it, like clinical trials.
However, recreational marijuana is still illegal in the country. On the back of Canada, Uruguay, Catalonia and many states in the US, Australian parties advocating the legalization of recreational marijuana seem to be ignited. Senators David Leyonhjelm and Richard DI Natale of The Greens, have both recently come forward towards legalising the use of recreational weed in Australia at the Commonwealth level.
Many individuals in Australia now increasingly support recreational cannabis legalisation, with the support rate increased from 26% to 35.4% from 2013-2016.
Percentage of male and female supporting legal marijuana for recreational purposes
Concerns about Full Cannabis Legalisation in Australia
Opponents of legalisation claim that making cannabis legal for recreational adult use will increase the crime rate, risk road accidents and diminish public health. They call marijuana a “gateway” drug. However, the “gateway” hypothesis was busted decades ago, as the majority of people who consume marijuana don’t go on to use other drugs. However, those who consume tobacco and alcohol potentially proceed with consuming cannabis. There is no evidence that legalisation increases use.
Is marijuana a gateway drug?
Why should Cannabis be legalized for Recreational Use in Australia?
The highly complex medical cannabis regulations and a ban on recreational marijuana have forced many Australians to pursue illegal routes to access marijuana. Between 2015-2016, there were almost 80,000 cannabis arrests, and two million people use cannabis every year..
Number of cannabis arrests in Australia from 2007-2008 to 2016-2017
It clearly shows that people are using illicit means to get cannabis. This is the foremost reason why Australia should legalise cannabis.
Legalisation Reduces harm
Australia’s official drug policy is based on harm minimisation, which should result in a net harm reduction. But, the major harm from using illicit drugs are because these drugs are illegal. The most significant harm is having people prosecuted for possessing marijuana for personal use, which negatively impacts a person’s future, career, and travel. Cannabis decriminalisation will reduce this harm without requiring full legalisation.
Reduce crime and social costs
The Australian justice system spends a significant period of time dealing with drug-related offences, such as theft, murder, arrests, and kidnapping. Marijuana legalisation and decriminalisation may help reduce these crimes and also reduce the burden on the justice system. It will also help prevent the cannabis black market from growing and selling weed illegally.
Regulating cannabis would help law enforcement focus more on responding to serious crimes, especially violent crimes. Regulating cannabis will help cut down some of the cost of police, courts, prison and also the income of major league black market weed suppliers.
Raising tax revenue
Studies say that cannabis legalisation will bring net social benefits at around AUD $727.5 million annually, which is significantly higher than the A$295 million generated from fines. The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates the total tax revenue from recreational marijuana legalization at around AUD $259 million.
A report released by Prohibition Partners, a market intelligence firm, suggests Australia’s legal medical cannabis market is currently valued at $19.2 million per year and may balloon to $1.3 billion by 2024 and then 43.3 billion by 2028. The report predicts that Australia’s cannabis market could grow up to $9.6 billion annually in a decade soon after legalising recreational marijuana.
The Oceania Cannabis Report says that at the moment, the black market for cannabis makes around $4.5 billion annually, which goes into the pockets of criminal gangs.
Australia should follow Canada
Another historic day was added to Canada’s history when the government made recreational marijuana legal nationwide. Matt Noffs, CEO of the Ted Noffs Foundation which helps disadvantaged youngsters embark on a better life, says that he doesn’t want to celebrate legalisation in Canada. Instead, he wants to learn from Canada and have the Australian government prepare for full legalisation of recreational pot in his country.
The Canadian government has banned advertising, enforced plain packaging and regulated labeling on cannabis products, including both medicinal as well as recreational. The lawful age to buy recreational marijuana is 19 in all provinces except two, where people aged 18 can buy weed. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that legalisation will take profit out of the hands of criminal organisations, protect kids and reduce the crime rate. Moreover, the country will make more revenue by preventing money from going into the pockets of drug cartels.
Noffs says Aussies are late learners, and late realisation often comes at a cost to safety and wellbeing. He says that by criminalising marijuana, Australia has suffered huge criminality and negative health outcomes. Nicotine is far more addictive and harmful than cannabis. Unlike tobacco and alcohol, marijuana doesn’t come with health and safety issues that need attention. Thus, keeping marijuana prohibited does not make any sense, and the Australian government and leaders should focus and invest on cannabis now.