Is Australia Moving Toward Marijuana Legalization?

Louis O’Neill
Jan 26 · 5 min read
The iconic marijuana leaf.

It seemed Australia was poised to follow the increasing number of countries which have legalised marijuana, when medicinal marijuana became legal in Australia in 2016. This was a promising sign for Australians, known for being the largest consumers of Marijuana on the planet, that soon they too may be able to witness the end of the ‘War on Drugs.’

Since then, however, little progress has been made by way of legalisation.

This is despite Canada’s recent legalisation of marijuana, along with Uruguay and now, over half the states in the US.

A pro-cannabis Canadian reveling in the newfound legalisation.

Marijuana has been illegal in Australia since 1928 and today remains largely the same, with the exception of decriminalisation in the ACT, SA and NT, whereby offenders will likely face a fine or penalty upon possession. However in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland, and Western Australia, use and supply of cannabis is criminally prohibited.

In response to attempts to legalise cannabis in May 2018, Australia’s Minister of Health, Greg Hunt maintained that marijuana legalisation is dangerous and medically irresponsible.”

This hard-line approach to drug criminalisation, however, seems to have done little to dissuade the Oceania region, within which Australia sits alongside New Zealand. The Oceania region comprises roughly 15% of total global marijuana consumption.

According to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, tolerance for regular adult cannabis use among the Australian general population rose from 9.8% in 2013 to 14.5% in 2016, and 85% of Australians favoured the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, rising from 69% in 2013.

And marijuana use shows no signs of abating, not just in Australia but globally.

In the US, 12 percent of adults, which equates to one in every eight people, said they were regular users of marijuana. This is up from 7 percent in 2013.

While the laws have yet to change, the conversation grows louder surrounding cannabis and the potential market for it in Australia.

The Australian National University’s 30-year election study found that a majority of Australians are now in favour of recreational marijuana legalisation. And, in May 2018, Senators David Leyonhjelm and Richard Di Natale put their cases forward for marijuana legalisation.

Greens Leader — Richard Di Natale

Leyonhjelm introduced a bill which in essence would remove all barriers to marijuana consumption in Australia, taking a civil liberties approach to his argument, stating that ‘adults should be free to make their own choices as long as they do not harm others’.

The Greens took a different tact, and approached their case by focusing on the failed effects of the War on Drugs, specifically as it comes to marijuana use.

As the studies show, Australia remains the world’s largest consumer of cannabis despite the drugs current legal status. This, the Greens argue, highlights that the ‘War on Drugs’ does little to discourage drug use. The Greens advocate an education model towards marijuana and other drugs, suggesting that the best method would be to teach people appropriate practices around drug use in order to minimise harm and misuse.

And just across the pond, in New Zealand, the Greens have gained power through a coalition with the Labour Party which has allowed them to push for a Cannabis Referendum in 2020, where the country must reach a decision on the drugs legal status.

It is likely this will lead to the legalisation of marijuana in New Zealand, with polls showing that a majority of citizens are in favour of legalisation.

If this is indeed the case, and marijuana is legalised in New Zealand, Australia may have to take another look at their drug policies, and whether or not they should be revised.

Among the Greens are many others who consider the War on Drugs to be an abysmal failure, mostly in terms of government expenditure.

While Australia spends roughly $1 billion each year on enforcing marijuana prohibition, the country could be instead earning billions through legalisation and taxation of cannabis.

A report from New Frontier Data estimates the cannabis industry in the US could generate $131.8 billion in federal tax revenue and add 1.1 million jobs by 2025 if it’s legalized for adult use in all 50 states.

Dolling out the dope — cannabis dispensary in the US.

However, despite the evidence to the contrary, it looks as though the Australian government will for the moment clutch to the status quo.

Though many expect the tide will turn in the years to come, and are preparing for what they believe is a burgeoning cannabis market in Australia.

Several businesses have emerged with aims to import or produce cannabis such as AusCann, Cann Group, GD Pharma, LeafCann, Little Green Pharma and more who all eagerly await the thumbs up on marijuana legalisation.

And according to Rhys Cohan from Cannabis Consulting Australia, even if one were to exclude recreational marijuana use, there are still many opportunities surrounding medicinal marijuana.

“There are opportunities in transport and logistics, packaging and labelling, policy and procedure development, HR and labour hire, product research and development, finance and insurance … the list goes on.”

Medicinal marijuana has been found to help with many health issues such as chronic pain, glaucoma, epilepsy, arthritic pains and many more, all of which may be treated or benefit from use of the drug.

The firm known as Prohibition Partners recently released a report which estimates that the nation’s legal medicinal cannabis market, currently valued at $17.7 million annually, could jump to $1.2 billion by 2024 and then $3 billion by 2028.

It seems that more countries are implementing a laissez-faire approach with regards to drug policy, specifically marijuana, and those that have are already reaping the benefits.

Canada is estimated to generate $8bn through their recent marijuana legalisation, and it is estimated that in North America alone, cannabis sales will reach above $20bn by 2021.

The Australian public and market are ready for cannabis legalisation, with much to gain, and ostensibly little to lose.

How long until Australia follows suit? How much longer will Australia continue to wade through the detritus of the failed War on Drugs?

Many suspect, the wait will not be long at all.

Louis O’Neill

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Hello! My name is Louis. I'm a Writer for the Green Fund — so in the rare times I’m not writing about cannabis I write about politics, religion and philosophy.