What Would It Take To Make Recreational Cannabis Consumption Legal In Australia?

More people in Australia now support the consumption of Cannabis, for recreational purposes than at any point in history.

Recreational Cannabis consumption is not legal in Australia.

Interest in the legalization of cannabis is starting to spread

The polls suggest (see analysis on our homepage) that more people in Australia now support the consumption of cannabis, for recreational purposes, than are against it. Unfortunately, for those attempting to influence things, to see Australian law changed, seeing those statistics reflected in the relevant legislation is a brutally slow process.

As a way of taking stock of where we are in Australia, on the road to full legalization, I recently took some time out, to discuss the issue with two Australian thought leaders on the subject.

Below, you’ll see the collated thoughts of Australian Cannabis experts, Langdon Brown and Olli Paakkanen, each of whom who has been considering the issue for some time.

Langdon spent a fair amount of his time procuring Medical Cannabis for Australians. It’s also worth mentioning that Langdon has worked in the field since 2013 and has been nominated for Australian of the Year!  Olli, on the other hand, has a unique insight in to the technology which might accompany legalization. 


Why isn’t cannabis legal in Australia already?

My first question for Langdon and Olli, was designed to establish the reasons we are where we are with cannabis in Australia. Given the statistics on public support for the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes, I asked, why do you think that hasn’t yet happened?

I added some comments in brackets, below. The other words are from them.

Langdon replies, “It is a big decision for Australia to legalize medicinal cannabis, but it is time we listen to the people. Big Pharma has convinced the government over the last 90 years that this (Cannabis) is a dangerous drug. The Australian government is trying to show they are responsible (why not legalizing).”

Experience in other countries suggests Langdon is correct. The policy ramifications in Canada,  for example, have been wide reaching, covering everything from driving under the influence of Cannabis to reforming workplace rules, in order to ensure employers have appropriate policies in place to deal with the possibility that some workers may have the drug in their systems when they enter the workplace. If Australia is to make changes in this area, studying the policy successes and failures of other markets is a must. 


What factors would have to come in to play (Political, Economic, Technological, Environmental) in order for cannabis to be legalized for recreational use? 

Langdon : “It is a simple decision for political parties to legalese recreational cannabis. It could be done in a couple of days in Parliament if it was given appropriate priority. Government is huge and can soon get the troops organizing this. Technologically we can do this of course, and economically Australia needs it. Environmentally 6% of Australia should be covered in hemp to source our yearly energy needs.”

Olli had some well considered and articulated thoughts on the subject. I’ve added links to content on this site which explores the points he has made here, in more detail.

  • The upcoming Australian Election :
    Olli feels the election scheduled for the second half of the year will play a significant role in the course of the cannabis legalization. We have an article dedicated to the Australian political situation around legalization
  • Public support:
    There are a lot of compelling research available, he says, globally, to support the legalization of pot for recreational use, as well as to provide patient health benefits. There are also statistics to show cannabis as a good source of tax income. We explore the various market research indicators which show Australian public support for legalisation on our homepage. 
  • The message on the potential economic benefits:
    The State of California has allowed recreational cannabis use, from January 2018. Resulting business has brought around US$134 million to state revenue (MJBIZ Daily, Aug 2018). Further, in a study done in Australia, by Economic analysis of the “impact of cannabis legalization calculate the net social benefit of legalization at A$727.5 million per year”. (More on the economic benefits of cannabis legalization.
  • Education on the science behind cannabis:
    Cannabis, for example, is no longer seen in the scientific community as a “gateway drug”, however the lack of education on the subject still carries stigma in many Australian’s view.
  • Clarity on dosage:
    From a personal experience, I did not react very well onto cannabis, here in Australia, due to the poor quality and nobody seemed to understand which strain they were selling, was it sativa, indica or hybrid and if so; which one was the dominant and what the THC/CBD levels are. There are over 1200 different strains of cannabis and they have various uses and impacts on patients. I now understand which strains and concentration levels work for me whether it is for pain, sleep, depression, energy or relaxation. More on using cannabis to treat depression here
  • Technology:
    From technological point of view, I believe blockchain technology and smart-contracts can resolve the regulatory dilemma for the decision makers. Lakeba Group delivers a distributed access and validation system using the blockchain to replace centralized intermediaries to provide secure, transparent and scalable access to the cannabis market. This blockchain based platform will drastically improve on the records systems, allowing transparency and accessibility patient records, growers, processors, laboratories, distributors, regulators and retailers. This has an important influence in establishing both governments and consumers’ confidence in product integrity, trust, and establishing an efficient supply chain.
  • Primary Australian Research:
    It seems to me, continued Olli, that Australian government also wants to conduct their own research on the medicinal and social benefits, rather relying on international research, before considering de-criminalization. Currently the Office of Drug Control together with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) are the sole providers of licenses and permits for cultivation and production of medicinal cannabis.
  • Case studies:
    From my experience, more native case studies of the cannabis use benefits and its impact on Australian society are required to convince the decision makers to call a referendum. 

 
When will cannabis be legal in Australia for recreational use?

I then went on to address what I consider to be the critical question with both Langdon and Olli. Momentum is growing in North America behind the legalization of recreational cannabis. I asked Langdon and Olli, when each thinks Australia will legalese cannabis for recreational use. Both believe that legalization is inevitable eventually, but had different timeframes during which they felt it would happen.

Langdon feels more confident on the issue : “Recreational cannabis,” he said, “will be legalized in Australia in the next few years. Government is giving big Pharma and wealthy companies first go at the market.”

Olli was more circumspect, ‘I would expect the federal legalization debate to happen during the next elected government’s tenure and can be used as one of the promises for referendum for the second term around 2022. However, states such as South Australia, ACT and Tasmania could have the discussion in 2020. I believe the NZ government’s decision will highly influence on the timeline and results.’


What can WE do to speed the process of legalization?

Finally, I asked about the influence each of us can exert on the subject. ‘What can we (if you’ll forgive the phrase – ‘Ordinary Australians’) do’, I asked, ‘to draw forward the day cannabis is legalized for recreational use?’ Interestingly both Langdon and Olli said very similar things.

“Ordinary people can bring this date of legalization of recreational cannabis forward by discussing with their local member of Parliament. Nothing less”

Similarly, Olli says, ‘The public should write to their representatives and draw their attention to real-life cases to create debate and ideal regulatory environment. States such as SA already have more laxed regulations on cannabis and could see it a way to attract more people to the state as ‘medicinal-cannabis refugees’ seeking treatment to various conditions.”


Bringing it all together

Langdon is a brave and rare soul, prepared to state publicly his support for marijuana at a time when there is still a stigma associated with the use of the drug. And Olli’s views on technology component of legalization are so interesting, I will try to work with him to produce another article on it.

I, for one, will be writing a letter to my local member, to encourage legalization.

Sincere thanks to Olli and Langden for taking the time to answer the questions and enlighten our readers.