History has it that the first hemp and cannabis seeds reached Australia in the late 1780s. The seeds were brought by the British’s First Fleet. The plants were first cultivated for agricultural and commercial purposes, its fibers used for ropes and other materials. Pretty soon, its use in everyday life expanded, including food as well as medicine for various ailments. In fact, medical cannabis was one of the staples in medicine at that time. It was used especially for pain. The government, for more than 150 years, didn’t interfere with how its people used hemp and cannabis. Whether for recreational purposes or medical, people were trusted to look after themselves.
By the late 1920s, however, the status of cannabis began to change worldwide. In the United States, for example, the propaganda against cannabis was growing and sowing fear among its citizens. This ultimately led to its prohibition in the US, which influenced other countries as well. Australia was not immune to the negative press. Soon the same concerns were shared across the country. A once harmless plant was now a dangerous drug. And government weaponized its legality to control populations. They saw an opportunity in the plant.
At least initially Australia did not see any reason to prohibit cannabis. Nevertheless, due to influence from the US and the UK, coupled with the Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs, the Australian government finally introduced measures for cannabis prohibition in the country. In 1925, hemp and cannabis officially became illegal in Australia. Over the succeeding years, states began banning cannabis as well.
The US’ Reefer Madness reached Australia in the late 1930s. Headlines were peppered with stories of the evil drug that makes its victims lose control and behave aggressively. These unfounded claims, often rooted in the bigotry towards other races and ethnicities, only further vilified the once medicinal drug.
Be that as it may, even with prohibition, it did not stop many Australians from seeking and enjoying cannabis. Just like the rest of the world; people can only be lied to for so long.
Current Legality of Cannabis in Australia
Medical cannabis was legalized in Australia in 2016, although the regulations vary per state. Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, remains illegal under federal law. Although it should be noted, recreational cannabis is legal in the country’s capital, the Australian Capital Territory. The bill to legalize recreational cannabis passed last September 2019, and the new law took effect last January 31, 2020.
Under the new cannabis law, residents of the Territory are allowed to cultivate their own plants (maximum of two plants per person or maximum of four plants per household). In addition to this, residents can also legally possess cannabis up to 50 grams. The legal age is set at 18.
The Popularity of Cannabis in Australia
Recreational cannabis is still illegal in other Australian states, but remains the most popular and widely used illegal substance in the country. It is also easily accessible, with widespread domestic cultivation contributing to its easy access.
A research study showed that an estimated number of about 1.95 million Australians (10.5% of the general population) used cannabis in 2016. This was a 1.6% increase from a 2007 study. Of these numbers, about 312,000 (16%) of them consumed cannabis daily. According to the study’s researchers, these daily cannabis users consumed about 85% of the country’s cannabis. These numbers clearly show that, despite cannabis’ illegal status, there is an increasing trend in its use/
Australia’s cannabis black market is estimated to be about $4.5 billion each year. If cannabis was legalized, at least $2 billion yearly could be put back into the economy and help with the country’s programs. And that number this number is the conservative estimate. According to New Frontier Data, legal recreational cannabis in Australia could be worth over $5 billion (USD) each year.
The demand to decriminalize and fully legalize cannabis in the country is steadily increasing. In fact, a recent 2019 survey revealed that 42% of the general population supports cannabis legalization. The number has jumped 9% in the span of four years. The number of anti-cannabis supporters (49%), on the other hand, has decreased by about 7%.
Will Australia legalize recreational cannabis? It’s still a wait-and-see game.
Australia’s Role in the World’s Medical Cannabis Scene
Although Australia’s medical cannabis industry is still in its infancy, business is already booming. There has been an increase in the number of cannabis entrepreneurs claiming their shares of the market, a market that experts estimate to balloon into a billion-dollar industry in the coming years.
The number of approved medical cannabis patients has also steadily increased. From 158 approved patients for medical cannabis in 2017 to 2,800 in January 2019. The number is expected to climb to more than 120,000 as cannabis education programs continue. These programs work to educate both doctors and patients on the benefits of cannabis.
Australia has a more restrictive model when it comes to prescribing medical cannabis. Both doctors and patients have to fill out several application forms, which are all done within the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s access scheme. The process is more tedious compared to the open models employed by other countries. However, this process allows the system to capture all the necessary data needed by the country’s medical researchers, cannabis regulators, and doctors to understand cannabis better. This is a system that can significantly help Australia’s young cannabis research programs. A system that we can all learn from to improve patient care and cannabis research.
Australia’s Cannabis Facilities
Oils and tinctures are the most common products that dominate Australia’s medical cannabis market. This offers Australians very limited options though compared to other countries. Although, with an increasing demand for medical cannabis products, there is hope that product innovation will soon follow in the coming years.
Just recently, three companies were given major project status by the federal government. This was done in order to meet the increasing demand. Not only will this create jobs for more Australians, but it will also give them the opportunity to produce premium-quality medical cannabis products and ingredients that can compete with the international market. These projects can help boost the country’s economic growth.
Australia is ready to become one of the major players in the international medical cannabis market. Recreational cannabis, if and when its legalized, could bring billions of dollars into the country’s cannabis industry. But how soon will Australia legalize recreational cannabis, only time will tell.
Obviously, there are bigger issues to worry about right now in Australia. The biggest being the wildfires and the damage caused. The raging fires have killed over a billion innocent animals. The images coming out are devastating. Our Australian friends need help saving them. It is easy to feel helpless in these situations when living on the other side of the world. But you can help. We all can. If you would like to donate and help the many animals affected by the fires, you can find various charities here. Each charity is unique. Find the one that speaks to you.