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Should Australia Introduce a Regulated Cannabis Market?

The legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes has been a hot topic in the Australian news this year. With the US, Canada, Uruguay and Israel all taking steps to legalise cannabis for medical use, the question is now being raised as to whether Australia should follow suit. While cannabis is currently illegal here, there are compelling arguments for its use in treating severe epilepsy, chronic pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

The Current Legal Status of Cannabis in Australia

Cannabis is classified as a Schedule 9 drug under the Poisons Standard which means it has the “high potential for abuse”. As a result, users face several restrictions including maximum penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment for possession of 1kg of the drug. It is currently illegal to possess cannabis for any purpose in Australia other than medicinal or scientific research purposes. Some Positive Developments In the recent past, several landmark moments have occurred in the struggle for cannabis law reform. In November 2016, the Victorian Law Reform Commission announced that it would be reviewing drug laws in the state, with a particular focus on cannabis use.

Recent Progress in Cannabis Legalisation

The political landscape in the United States has shown a complete reversal of roles in recent months. Once a bastion of conservatism, this country has fallen out of favour with the Republican Party due to its president’s controversial views on immigration and the drug war. Whilst marijuana use remains a federal offence in the US, 22 states have now legalised the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Similar measures have been passed in the United Kingdom and Canada. A ban on cannabis has been lifted in Canada and pot will be on sale in stores in a little over two weeks’ time. The UK, meanwhile, has recently announced that cannabis will soon be available for medicinal use in England and Wales, something which has become a “big deal”.

Arguments for Legalising Cannabis

Medical research has been vital to the decision to legalise cannabis, not least for a new clinical trial to test the effects of cannabis on treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. There are also exciting studies which are revealing the potential of cannabis in treating epilepsy and improving appetite in children who have autism. The argument can be made that the lack of clinical research on cannabis leads to the false idea that it is dangerous. As for safety, the main threat from cannabis comes from impaired driving. Even in states where it is legal to use cannabis, many people still don’t do so and there are concerns about high-strength THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) cannabis available illegally.

How This Would Impact Society

Unlike the US, where recreational cannabis use is not yet legal, Australia already has a thriving cannabis industry in the form of the growing number of medical marijuana users. Under existing law, doctors can prescribe cannabis for the treatment of a variety of medical conditions, although they must be certified by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. As with any new commodity, the emergence of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals would cause disruption in the existing healthcare system. This disruption is expected to be particularly significant in the treatment of chronic pain, which, although it has long been recognised as a major cause of disability and healthcare cost, has not yet been provided with effective treatment.

Conclusion

The legalisation of cannabis in Australia could be a powerful driver for several industries in the country. Whether this will happen is a matter for the medical and scientific communities to discuss and decide. While the legalisation of cannabis is the most obvious potential impact of legalisation, it is not the only. The rest of the Cannabis Map shows that there are a variety of other areas that would be impacted by the legalisation of cannabis, including the cultivation, production and sale of cannabis in Australia.

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