Why Is Australia Lagging The USA In Legalizing Cannabis?
Australia wants to lead the global marijuana industry, but what’s stopping it?
Australia ended the prohibition of medical cannabis, at the Federal level, in 2016. Subsequently, in January of last year (2018), Australia’s Health Minister, Greg Hunt, revealed the nation’s intention to be the world’s leading exporter of medical marijuana.
At the time, Hunt said that legalizing medical cannabis product exports would assist in developing the domestic market. His goal, he said, was to safeguard the country’s ability to provide Cannabis for Australians who need it.
Considering just the headlines there, it might be easy to imagine that Australia is following the now well worn path of Cannabis legalization. In other countries, the ‘movement’ has followed similar milestones. Each country has stepped first, from illegal Cannabis to the legalization of medical marijuana, and later, to a regulated but free market for recreational purchase and use of Cannabis. Are we only a few months from having the ability to buy recreational Cannabis in Australia? Regrettably, no.
Parallels with other countries & Australia’s conservative heart
Australia has a Federal government which allows State laws – a similar circumstance to the US. That would appear to represent the same opportunity for a ‘rogue’ State (such as Colorado) to legalize, despite Federal concerns as a form of ‘experiment’.
Australia is not ready to look beyond medical cannabis in any state, at this stage, for a number of reasons. Primary among them, is the conservative nature of the current government which leaves the country behind other, more progressive parts of the world.
Some Australians do want to follow Canada, and the US
That said, some do want to see a change in the law.
In April, the Greens’ leader and Australian Senator, Richard Di Natalie, proposed his plan to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide. He claimed that strict regulations would control the sales and production of Cannabis and that a legitimate market will take the drug out of criminal hands.
In addition to Di Natalie’s ‘push’ there are two factors that could lead to the implementation of recreational Cannabis in Australia – whether the final result looks like The Green Party’s policy, or something entirely different. First, the impact on the budget, second social pressure.
Legalizing recreational Cannabis would boost the Australian budget by about $1.8 billion per year, according to the Australian Parliamentary Budget Office. That estimate includes direct taxes as well as less direct costs, such as the reduced financial load on law enforcement, from enforcing the government’s current position on the black market cannabis industry. Marijuana tourists travelling to Australia would, the report suggested, contribute an additional 10 percent of total sales, making the country earn $130 million in revenue by 2020.
NDSH Survey 2016 Support for Legalizing Cannabis in percentage
Finally, overall, Thirty-two percent of Australians think recreational marijuana should be legal. Importantly, as you can see from the NDSH (National Drug Strategy Household) report above, younger people are more likely to support legalization, adding a demographic influencer to the circumstance. In simple terms, as time goes on, a higher proportion of the voting public will support legalization.
Arguments against legalization in Australia
Unfortunately, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), clearly a very credible source, was far from fully behind the Greens’ plan to legalize Cannabis for recreational use. The President of the Association, Michael Gannon, said that he welcomed any initiative shifting the public conversation about illegal drugs towards rehabilitation and treatment, instead of policing; but he won’t support decriminalizing illicit drugs, including Cannabis.
The Greens’ proposal drew nationwide attention, and marijuana fans rallied in support with hopes that the government would finally make the much-awaited move. But all hopes were quashed the following day when Greg Hunt, the same health minister who suggested Australia should become the world’s number 1 exporter of Cannabis, criticized the Green’s plan. The minister suggested marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’ that leads users to methamphetamine and heroin.
There’s clear evidence that people who use harder drugs (such as Heroin and other Opium based pain killers), most start with alcohol or cigarettes, not marijuana. Further, most people who use Cannabis as a ‘starter’ drug don’t move on to harder drugs. As for those who do, there is no way of knowing whether marijuana played the role of being a ‘gateway’ drug.
It is disappointing that a Health Minister, an individual charged with acting in the public interest and making clear statements of fact, without bias, could use such an old and uninformed argument, to make his case for apparently political reasons.
There is no clear path for Australia, yet
Unfortunately, there is no clear path visible - yet - for Australia to fully legalize recreational marijuana. However, given the shifting public attitudes and progress achieved by the world’s top economies, it seems likely that cannabis will, sooner or later, become a socially-sanctioned intoxicant Down Under – it’s just going to take some time.
For now, Australians who support legalization have to look on as others out-perform it. Uruguay, for example, has already established itself as a leader of the world’s cannabis industry. Canada and many US states, are hot on their heels. New Zealand, a country with strong geographical, historic and cultural ties to Australia, will likely hold a national referendum in the next year to see if Cannabis can be fully legalized. The expectation is that they will.
For now, on this issue as many others, Australia remains a shemozzle. A conservative attitude, a lack of clear government policy and a science based public discussion are the primary reasons why Australia is falling behind the USA in legalizing cannabis. We only have ourselves to blame.
By: Julie Adams