The complex standing of Cannabis in Australia
Cannabis was first made illegal in Australia in the 1920s, following the influence of countries such as the United States of America (US) and the United Kingdom (UK). In 1925, Australia signed the Geneva Convention of Opium and other drugs alongside several countries.
By entering this agreement, Australia became obligated to enforce restrictions on the use of illicit substances. In the initial stages of this agreement, countries such as the UK enforced the law on Australia’s behalf. This is because the government was particularly lacklustre about the treaty. By 1938, cannabis was completely outlawed in Australia.
The nation experienced its biggest drug wave in the late 1960s, decades after the prohibition was first introduced on a mass scale. Initially, the government responded to this drug wave by implementing more stringent penalties on drug use and possession.
In 1977, however, a Senate committee moved to have the sanctions on personal use and possession removed. This is a state known as decriminalisation. Following the committee, cannabis was decriminalised in states and territories including the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in 1992 and the Northern Territory in 1995. In territories such as New South Wales and Victoria, Cannabis Caution Schemes – where warnings are issued to offenders – were implemented.
Australian states have different approaches to cannabis. Source: CannabisExpress
In 2016, Australia took the first step on the federal level in the direction of a pro-cannabis society. Under the Therapeutic Goods Act, cannabis was legalised for specific medical conditions. However, cannabis is still strictly prohibited for recreational consumption.
Cannabis – and its various preparations – is the most widely used illicit substance in Australia. A research study conducted by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare suggests that 35% (or approximately 6.9 million) of Australians have used cannabis in their lifetime. 10.4% (Approximately 2.1 million) Australians used cannabis within the last 12 months.
Have there been attempts to legalise Cannabis in Australia?
Following the legalisaion of cannabis for medicinal purposes, there have been a number of attempts by Australian politicians to legalise cannabis for recreational purposes.
In 2018, a former Australian politician, David Leyonhjelm, introduced a bill to the parliament which would amend several restrictions to the use of cannabis. By passing the bill into law, all barriers on the sale, regulation and taxation of cannabis would essentially be removed. Leyonhjelm’s approach to this bill is simply that “adults should be free to make their own choices as long as they do not harm others.”
The Green Party, under Richard Di Natale, seeks to decriminalize cannabis for individuals over the age of 18. As opposed to Leyonhjelm, Di Natale seeks to decriminalise marijuana as Australia’s ‘war on drugs’ has failed.
Despite the stringent laws on cannabis, Australia remains one of the world’s largest consumer of cannabis. The Green Party argues that the ‘war on drugs’ has done nothing to stifle the consumption of marijuana. Instead of criminalising the substance, the party advocates an educational model towards marijuana and other drugs. By educating the people on drug use, harm and misuse can be minimised.
The party projects to create a system where a government regulated agency is the sole wholesaler and distributor of cannabis in the nation. This agency will also handle the registration of prospective growers and retailers.
All attempts to legalisation have been unsuccessful to date. Commenting on the attempts to legalisation, Australia’s Minister of Health, Greg Hunt, offers no support to the pro-cannabis movements. He remarks that the attempts at legalisation are ‘dangerous and medically irresponsible’.
Statistics reflect the growing support for legalisation amongst the general populace. A telephone poll conducted by the Greens in Tasmania found that 59% of residents support the decriminalisation of cannabis within the state, as opposed to 28% that don’t. In this same telephone poll, Denison recorded 63% in favor, to 23% in opposition, while Braddon recorded a 59% support chunk.
These findings echo those of a study conducted by the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NSDH Survey) which shows that Australians largely support the decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis.
More Australians supported cannabis legalisation than not. Source: CannabisExpress
Despite the overwhelming support of politicians and the population alike, legalisation remains yet to be seen.
Despite the overwhelming support of politicians and the population, cannabis remains illegal in Australia. In recent times, a Labor backbencher named Michael Pettersson, proposed a bill to legalise marijuana in the ACT. The bill received widespread support from Pettersson’s party as well as the Green party, meeting the required majority vote to be passed into law.
Due to the new parliamentary rules which govern the ACT, this bill may be delayed for several months. There is no telling how long the bill will be deliberated on by the parliament. However, the country stays hopeful, and a full legalisation in the ACT may motivate other states and territories to do the same. Such may also be a model for the Australian Parliament. Regardless of how long it takes, the climate remains ready for legal cannabis, and public opinion is likely to continue its upward trend supporting legalisation.