Australians are the world's biggest users of recreational cannabis when measured as a proportion of the population. Australians are more likely to use pot than to smoke tobacco or drink caffeine. The only drug we engage with more is alcohol, an activity which seems to have given us a reputation on the global scale for 'having a beer.' The accolade is not undeserved.
Marijuana has already been legalized in Australia when used for medical purposes. Prominent members of the government have even said clearly that Australia holds the ambition to be the world leader in producing medical cannabis.
Perhaps these features of the Australian drug and cultural landscape explain why a higher proportion of Australians now support the legalization of recreational cannabis than wish to see it remain banned. Together, the evidence seems overwhelming. In sum, they raise the question – Why hasn't Australia legalized cannabis for adult use?
Recreational Cannabis use for adults remains illegal for political reasons
Australia has a government which is conservative in many ways. We only legalized gay marriage in late 2017, despite the public making it abundantly clear that it's what we wanted for many years. Progress was deliberately slowed by a far right component of the governing Liberal party who wanted to delay the inevitable for as long as they could for what appeared to be purely ideological reasons.
To be fair to those in charge, there is, even now, a lack of clear evidence about the long term effects of cannabis use, ironically, largely as a result of the fact it has been so stringently banned for so long.
There are real negative effects too. Cannabis use can contribute to psychosis and does cause addiction in a proportion of those who use it. When the issue is raised in the news, it is these issues which those who wish to maintain the status quo raise. A few half truths tend to get drawn in too, including the recent suggestion by a member of parliament that cannabis is a gateway drug.
The global change of tone around cannabis will eventually come to Australia
Despite our conservative nature, progress on cannabis legalization happening in the rest of the world is evident to us. Importantly, countries which share remarkable cultural similarities to us are legalizing it one after another.
Canada will legalize recreational marijuana later this year. A growing number of U.S. states have legalized with impressive economic results. Later this year, New Zealand, almost a family member if judged by geographical proximity and how much we dislike their sports teams, will go to a referendum.
These very public U-turns of opinion from people who think like us raise the issue and prompt discussion at home. Importantly, when the time does come for Australia, we can learn from some of the teething problems these countries have experienced.
Additionally, there is some political support. Richard DiNatalie, leaders of the Greens political party recently put forward a policy under which the party would support legalization under a system very similar to the one Canada is implementing.
Finally, the conservative nature of the Liberal party, the home of those far right ideologs could, ultimately, turn to work in favor of legalization. A general election is to be held in Australia soon and the Liberals are running on a platform of 'jobs and growth'.
The economic benefits of cannabis legalization are clear for all to see, in states which have accepted it. Colorado's intelligent use of tax dollars to fund schools is a lighthouse of reason, which we can see all the way down here. For a political party, which so clearly wants to be associated with market freedom and full employment, the tax and economic stimulus that legalization would likely deliver will be hard to ignore.
Whichever country you're in, the people ? public sentiment – are always ahead of politicians. With a growing number of medical research projects underway to underline the medicinal benefits of cannabis and the responsible approach that countries we consider sensible are taking to its legalization, it may be only a few years before Australia finally legalizes cannabis.
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Cannabis Express in Australia