The legalisation of cannabis use is so close you can almost smell it, with the introduction of bills across multiple states this week providing a major boost and data analysis backing-in calls for the government to catch up with the rest of the world.
The Drug Reform Bill proposed by the Legalise Cannabis Party in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia on Tuesday, would allow individuals to possess and grow up to six marijuana plants in their own home and even gift small amounts to others.
While designed to reduce prosecutions and ease the strain on the judicial system, it would still be illegal for anyone under 18 to use it, in line with alcohol and nicotine laws, or for anyone to drive under the influence of it.
“These laws are currently causing real harm and we should as a society come together to prevent any further harm,” said Rachel Payne, a Victorian Legalise Cannabis MP, adding the bill was an opportunity to be on the “the right side of history when it comes to cannabis law reform”.
Jeremy Buckingham, a NSW upper house MP for Legalise Cannabis, said: “The wider community wants cannabis law reform.
“They’ve seen how successful medicinal cannabis has been and are sick of governments wasting billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on people who are going before the courts for simple cannabis possession.”
Prohibition has well and truly failed and governments all around the world are finally accepting this fact.
The Greens have also announced a plan to legalise and regulate recreational use of cannabis for people aged 18 and over in NSW, as attitudes towards the drug have shifted over the years.
They argue cannabis prohibition has resulted in drug users gaining criminal records, not seeking help with drug-related problems when needed and being exposed to other more harmful drugs on the black market.
Greens MP, Cate Faehrmann, said law enforcement is spending billions a year failing to police the drug.
“Prohibition has well and truly failed and governments all around the world are finally accepting this fact,” Faehrmann told Central News.
“We’ve seen legalisation in 21 US states, Canada, Uruguay, South Africa and Mexico and the sky hasn’t fallen.”
Support for legalisation has almost doubled over six years, the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) found.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare compiled the 2019 data, asking around 20,000 Australians aged 14 and over about their attitudes towards drugs.
The survey revealed, for the first time, more Australians supported the legalisation of cannabis than those who opposed it.
In 2019, 41 per cent of respondents believed cannabis should be legalised for personal use, compared to 37 per cent who opposed it – signalling a significant increase in support from 25 per cent just six years earlier.
The NDSHS also found 20 per cent of people supported regular cannabis use compared to the 15 per cent who supported regular tobacco smoking.
The Greens have proposed legalising adult recreational use and possession, licensing fees for producers and retailers, and allowing households to grow up to 12 cannabis plants.
Cannabis poses much less harm to individual users and to our society compared to alcohol, tobacco and many prescription drugs.
Faehrmann said that the cost of dealing with cannabis-related crimes should be directed towards tackling serious problems, like domestic and sexual violence.
“People are risking criminal records just because their drug of choice has been deemed illegal,” she said.
“Cannabis poses much less harm to individual users and to our society compared to alcohol, tobacco and many prescription drugs.”
Currently, the cultivation of cannabis may be used for medicinal and research purposes in NSW after legalisation in 2016.
Commercial uses of cannabis have since been emerging into the Australian market. However, as cannabis remains a prohibited drug under NSW law, it may only be lawfully prescribed by a practitioner.
Tony Bartone, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, expressed concerns about the Greens’ plan saying the drug may affect the developing brains of young people.
However, he added drug use should be regarded as a health issue rather than a criminal one.
“The courts are clogged with people [on drug charges],” Bartone said.
The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) found cannabis-related incidents are the leading drug offences to be charged in NSW.
Its data revealed there were 524 criminal incidents of cannabis possession and use in 2022 – higher than charges relating to the possession and use of other drugs.
As court delays remain an issue in NSW Local Courts, the significant number of cannabis-related charges only serves to worsen the backlog of court cases.
BOCSAR court statistics show, over the last five years, it takes an average of 90 days for matters to be finalised in local courts.
Another study found the legalisation of cannabis in the US reduced the number of cannabis-related offences and reduced court delays.
Recreational use of cannabis was decriminalised in the ACT in 2020 and ACT Policing figures similarly showed the number of drug offences had decreased since.
The report revealed a significant 71 per cent decrease in charges for drug possession and use since 2017, and a 70 per cent decrease in the overall number of drug offences.
With the Greens and Legalise Cannabis Party plans and increased support from Australians, NSW could potentially see the legalisation of recreational cannabis use within the next few years.
“It’s time to legalise cannabis in NSW,” Faehrmann said.
“A regulated cannabis market would protect young people because, unlike drug dealers, cannabis stores will be required to check ID and refuse service to those under 18.”
Main photo by David Gabric on Unsplash.