Australia; the land of sun, surf and soon to be legal weed? I’d wager yes to that question, provided several years is classed as “soon”. So what’s really going on with cannabis in Australia right now?
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A lot of its citizens may not think of Australia as progressive, especially compared to some countries like Canada and regions like Scandinavia. On a global scale however it is certainly up there.
Australia is no trailblazer when it comes to progressive policies, however it’s certainly not one of the last countries to jump on board either. For example, Australia was the 25th country to legalize same-sex marriage . This is nowhere near the front of the pack, however 25th out of 195 puts it in the top 15%.
So, how many countries have legal recreational cannabis? Again, this number varies depending on definitions, however the short answer is two; Uruguay and Canada. There are also a number of other places around the world that have legalized recreational cannabis in some parts of the country, for example, the United States.
There are other places who turn a blind eye given the boost to the local economy, for example Amsterdam in The Netherlands. And then, there are other countries who allow recreational cannabis for consumption but not for sale such as South Africa and Georgia . That’s not to mention the countless countries who have decriminalized recreational cannabis. Or the countries who don’t often enforce it, provided it’s a small amount and deemed for personal use only.
Where does Australia sit amongst all of this? In the last group, along with other countries like New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland. Australia has differing laws depending on the state or territory, however does not have anything remotely similar to recreational dispensaries at this stage.
Competition with New Zealand
But will it do “soon”? At the moment, the signs point to yes. This is due to a number of factors, but a main one being New Zealand’s referendum on the matter, scheduled for November 2020 . Although it’s still over a year away, it looks likely to pass based on opinion polls. Should it pass, this would put a lot of social pressure on Australia to follow suit.
New Zealand is often considered one of the most similar countries to Australia, due to their demographics, languages and location. This creates a bit of competition between the two countries, whether it’s about Rugby Union, natural landmarks, or social issues.
Citizen’s Opinions on Cannabis in Australia
A survey by the National Drug Strategy Household (NDSH) in 2016 found that 73.9% of Australians are not in support of keeping possession of cannabis a criminal offence . Despite this however, 4.5% of Australian’s were found to be in support of prison sentence as punishment for cannabis possession. This shows there is still a significant portion of the population that supports harsh penalties, approximately 1.1 million people.
From the same survey, it showed that no age group of people had a majority of support for recreational cannabis. Not surprisingly, the most in support age group was those aged 18 – 24, at 48.4%. This rate of support slowly declined with age, with those aged 12 – 17 years being an expected anomaly as the second least supportive age group .
This may seem a bit disheartening to those Australians in support of legal recreational cannabis. However, as a whole, support has increased from 26% in 2013, to 35.4% in 2016. This survey has not yet been replicated for 2019. If support continued on the same trajectory as the previous years, the percentage would likely be around the 45% mark.
Global Cannabis Trends
To assume that support would continue at the previous growth rate however could be considered very conservative. Since 2016 a lot of global support has happened, most notably in California, Canada, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and Nevada  . Those five US states, along with Canada account for a large percentage of the world’s population (approximately 110 million), and an even larger percentage of the Western world. California alone accounts for over 12% of the United States population. This movement in the United States is only growing stronger, with the states of New York and New Jersey set to be next. Although this has very little to do with Australia, it increases exposure and keeps the topic fresh in people’s minds.
Extra Tax Revenue
One thing that people agree almost unanimously on is more funding for schools and hospitals is needed, as well as more jobs. Recreational cannabis could provide both of these things. The government could regulate and tax the consumption, while opening up the currently small industry to an influx of jobs. It is estimated that recreational cannabis could contribute $1b in tax revenue, while providing an additional 250,000 jobs .
Proposed Law Changes to Cannabis in Australia
Our final point to why we believe recreational cannabis will be legal “soon” in Australia is the proposed bill for the Australian Capital Territory. Although yet to pass, this bill has the support of both Labor & the Greens, two of Australia’s largest political parties on the left leaning side . Should this bill pass, that will truly put the wheels in motion behind this movement in Australia.
The Australian Capital Territory’s population accounts for less than 2% of Australia’s population. Although small, it would set an example to the other states and territories of Australia if it were to pass, similar to what Colorado & Washington state did to the US back in 2012.
 – https://www.sbs.com.au/news/same-sex-marriage-around-the-world-how-many-countries-have-legalised-it
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 – https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-10/legalising-weed-in-canberra-is-not-going-to-be-easy/11188010