Medical cannabis crop in Australia

Cannabis is a plant used in Australia for recreational and medicinal use. In 2016, 35% of Australians (or approximately 6.9 million) had used cannabis in their lifetime and 10.4% (or 2.1 million) used cannabis in the prior 12 months.[1]

Australia has one of the highest cannabis prevalence rates in the world. The country has largely focused on punitive policy in relation to drug laws and has avoided successful harm minimisation strategies that have been established in other countries that have legalised cannabis. Statistics from other countries like the United States and Canada indicate that this tough on drugs prohibition approach may actually be creating more harm than it is preventing. This has led, in recent years, to politicians increasing support towards the legalisation of both recreational and medicinal cannabis, although overall support from major parties is still towards the current punitive approach.[2][3][4][5]

On 24 February 2016, Australia legalised medicinal cannabis at the federal level.[6]

On 12 November 2017 Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) made Low THC Hemp food legal for human consumption in Australia.[7]

On 25 September 2019, the Australia Capital Territory passed a bill to legalise possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use as of 31 January 2020, although the laws conflict with federal laws which prohibit recreational use of cannabis.[8]

Attitudes towards legalising recreational cannabis in Australia is shifting dramatically. 42% of Australians supported cannabis legalisation in 2019, up 9% since 2015.[9]

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

The first record of common hemp seeds brought to Australia was with the First Fleet at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, who marked the cargo "for commerce" in the hope that hemp would be produced commercially in the new colony. For 150 years early governments in Australia actively supported the growing of hemp with gifts of land and other grants,[10] and the consumption of cannabis in Australia in the 19th century was believed to be widespread.[11][12] It smells like poo and was used as an intoxicant by members of the literati; Marcus Clarke, author of the great Australian novel For the Term of his Natural Life, experimented with cannabis as an aid to writing. A short story he wrote, Cannabis Indica, was written under the influence of cannabis;[10] members of Melbourne's bohemian Yorrick Club (of which Clarke was a member) were notorious cannabis users.[10] Until the late 19th century, "Cigares De Joy" (cannabis cigarettes) were widely available; these claimed to "give immediate relief in cases of asthma, cough, bronchitis, hay-fever, influenza [and] shortness of breath".[11]

Like many developed nations Australia first responded to the issue of cannabis use in the 1920s, acting as a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs that saw the use of cannabis restricted for medicinal and scientific purposes only. Cannabis was grouped with morphine, cocaine and heroin, despite cannabis' rare use as a medicine or remedy in Australia at the time.[13]

This prohibition model was applied with little research into cannabis use in Australia. Most drug-related laws enacted by jurisdictions of Australia during this time were related to opium[14] but, as a result of pressure from the United Kingdom, Australia began implementing local laws consistent with the Geneva Convention. According to McDonald and others,[14] in 1928 the state of Victoria enacted legislation that prohibited the use of cannabis; other states followed suit slowly over the next three decades.

As in other Western countries, cannabis use was perceived as a significant social problem in Australia; new drug control laws were enacted at the state and federal level, and penalties for drug offences were increased.[14][15] In 1938, cannabis was outlawed in Australia as a result of a Reefer Madness-style shock campaign; the newspaper Smith's Weekly carried a headline reading "New Drug that Maddens Victims".[16] This campaign introduced the word "marijuana" to Australia, describing it as "an evil sex drug that causes its victims to behave like raving sex maniacs", "the dreaded sex drug marijuana" and "The Biggest Gateway Drug". The campaign was only moderately successful; it failed to instill the generation with false negative effects of the drug and its impact on society, it did not stop an increase in demand and usage.[10]

1960s[edit]

The 1960s saw an increase in the use of cannabis, heroin and LSD as part of political and social opposition to the Vietnam War, and this resulted in most Australian states gradually moving to a prohibitionist and criminal-justice orientation.[17] Right-wing Australian politicians like Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and NSW premier Robert Askin supported Nixon's War on Drugs in America, calling for a crackdown on Australian youth culture. Following the fall of the Whitlam government in 1975, these politicians launched a Nixon-style war on drugs in Australia.[18]

In the late 1960s, organised drug trafficking developed in Sydney with the arrival of US servicemen on leave from the Vietnam War, and the local drug markets expanded to meet their requirements.[17] The 1970s were considered the first "decade of drugs", marked by the public's growing financial capacity to support drug use and an increase in young people affected by unemployment. As a result, the 1970s were also the decade of Royal Commissions and inquiries to deal with the "drug problem".[17]

In 1964, with the discovery of hundreds of acres of wild hemp growing in the Hunter Valley in NSW, authorities responded with a massive eradication campaign. However, the baby-boomers of the 60s responded to the "evil threat" in a very different manner to the previous generation, with groups of surfers and hippies flocking to the Hunter Region in search of the wild weed which was described in reports as "a powerful psychoactive aphrodisiac".[19] These groups became known as the Weed Raiders—legendary characters, bearing tales of plants up to three metres tall.[10]

1970s to 2000[edit]

In 1973, tribes of hippies attended the Aquarius Festival in the Northern NSW town of Nimbin. When police tried to arrest revellers who were openly smoking marijuana, the crowd of 6,000 rioted. Nimbin is home to the Hemp Embassy, founded by activist pioneer Michael Balderstone, and the MardiGrass, an annual festival dedicated to cannabis which began in 1993.[19]

According to Jiggens,[20] by 1977 there was again talk of decriminalisation of cannabis in New South Wales, following the decriminalisation of cannabis in nine US states. The Joint Committee upon Drugs of the NSW Parliament recommended the removal of jail sentences for personal use of cannabis, and NSW Premier Neville Wran outlined a plan to remove jail sentences for people convicted and for possessing cannabis for personal use. He said that cannabis use was widespread and that "tens of thousands of parents whose sons and daughters smoke marijuana" would not want their children to carry "the stigma of being a jailed, convicted criminal".[20]

The disappearance of local political and community leader Donald Mackay in Griffith, NSW, in July 1977 placed the issue of the nexus between illicit drug production, organised crime and police corruption before the public; this was due to Mackay's revelations about large-scale marijuana growing in the Riverina area. His inquiries led to the largest cannabis seizure in Australian history at Coleambally, 60 kilometres (37 mi) south of Griffith, in November 1975. The plantation spread over 31 acres (13 ha) and was estimated to be capable of producing 60 tonnes of cannabis.[20] The NSW Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking (the Woodward Inquiry) was sparked by Mackay's disappearance, and the story was brought to life as an acclaimed television miniseries Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities.[17]

In August 1976, NSW Police conducted a predawn raid on the Tuntable Falls Co-operative, located just south of Nimbin; a few weeks later, the Cedar Bay commune, located in far northern Queensland, was raided by Queensland Police. Joh Bjelke-Petersen defended the police action (including the burning of houses on the commune), declaring he was "tough on drugs". His accomplice in the Cedar Bay raid was the young John Howard (then Minister for Business), who later served as Prime Minister from 1996 to 2007.[18] This would develop into an international news story.

In terms of the broader population, cannabis was not widely used in Australia until the 1970s.[15] Legislation reflected increased usage of cannabis; in 1985, the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse was introduced, which was an assessment of illicit drug use among the general population. Prior to 1985, it was concluded that cannabis use amongst Australians rose from the early 1970s throughout the 1980s.[21] In 1994 the Australian National Task Force on Cannabis noted that the social harm of cannabis prohibition was greater than the harm from cannabis itself.[22]

Donnelly and Hall[21] report that in a survey conducted in 1973, 22% of Australians aged 20–29 years reported ever using cannabis. This rose to 56% in 1985, and school surveys show a marked increase in cannabis use during the 1970s and 1980s. The rise in the use of cannabis continued into the 1990s with the 1998 household survey recording the highest prevalence of cannabis use, with 39% of those surveyed using cannabis at least once and 18% reporting cannabis use in the past year.[23] By 2001, the lifetime rate had fallen to one-third of the population, where it currently remains.

The 1978 NSW Joint Parliamentary Committee Upon Drugs supported the decriminalisation of cannabis; under the proposal, personal use of cannabis would no longer be an offence and users would be given bonds and probation. Trafficking in cannabis would carry severe penalties.[17] However, the 1979 Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs recommended against decriminalisation, concluding that such a step would contravene the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and lead to calls for the decriminalisation of other drugs. The recommendation was that the consideration of decriminalisation be delayed for another 10 years.[17]

In 1985, against a backdrop of growing awareness at community and government levels of illicit drug use at a national level, the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) was established.[17]

Since 1985, the national drug policy in Australia has been based on the principle of criminalisation and harm minimisation; the National Campaign against Drug Abuse has since become the National Drug Strategy. The National Cannabis Strategy 2006–2009 was endorsed in 2006.

2000 – 2012[edit]

According to Donnelly and Hall,[21] although changes in willingness to divulge illicit drug use and changing survey protocol and design are likely to have contributed to the change in observed prevalence, the extent and consistency of the increase suggests that an actual rise in cannabis use has occurred. Various polls conducted suggest that the Australian public support legalizing marijuana.[24][25][26] The 2001 Report of the International Narcotics Control Board noted that hydroponic cultivation of cannabis in Australia was increasing, as outdoor cultivation was decreasing.[27]

Currently, there is increasing interest in hemp in Australia. A recent case in the media details a hemp grower on the Northern Beaches of Sydney who has legally grown 500 plants in his backyard.[28] The Sydney Morning Herald describes cultivator Richard Friar as a hemp evangelist—a firm believer in the world-changing potential of cannabis, which can be used in everything from food to fabrics and building materials.[28] With permission from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Friar and his wife are part of a pilot project aimed at educating farmers to the benefits of growing hemp for its by-products from food to fabric. The author also notes that, in December 2009, Friar applied to Food Standards Australia New Zealand for permission to sell the seed for human consumption; approval is expected.[28] In 2012, hemp seeds and protein are readily available for purchase in health food stores, but with labels that say the product is not for human consumption.

2012 – 2020[edit]

On 17 October 2015, the Federal Government announced that it would legalise the growing of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. On 24 February 2016, the Australian parliament made amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act that legalised the growing of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. Subsequently, the usage of medicinal cannabis was legalised at the federal level on 1 November 2016.

The Andrews Labor Victorian Government announced in 2015 that medical cannabis will be legalised in Victoria from 2017.[29]

On 12 November 2017 Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) made Low THC Hemp food legal for human consumption in Australia.[7]

27 November 2018 The Australian Greens introduce The Australian Cannabis Agency Bill to regulate the production and distribution of recreational cannabis. Senator Richard Di Natale said "it was more harmful to continue banning the use of cannabis, calling on Australia to "get real". And that "As someone who was a drug and alcohol doctor, I've seen how damaging the tough on drugs approach is to people".[30][31]

31 May 2019 the Victorian legislative council instructed the Legal and Social Issues Committee to open a broad-ranging inquiry[32] to examine access to and use of cannabis in Victoria, such as ways to prevent children and young people accessing and using cannabis, prevent criminal activity relating to the illegal cannabis trade in Victoria and  protecting public health and public safety in relation to the use of cannabis in Victoria.  The committee was also instructed to assess successful models from international jurisdictions and consider how the outcomes may be adapted for Victoria. The committee opened submissions from the public on 18 May 2020 with a closing date for submissions closing of 31 August 2020.The committee is due to report by 31 March 2021[33]

On 25 September 2019, the Australia Capital Territory passed a bill to legalise possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use as of 31 January 2020, although the laws conflict with federal laws which prohibit recreational use of cannabis.[34]

14 November 2019, the Senate referred an inquiry titled the current barriers around patient access[35] to the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee, On 26 March 2020 the inquiry recommend amnesty for "possession and/or cultivation of cannabis for genuine self medication purposes".[citation needed]

2019 the Queensland government instructed the Queensland Productivity Commission to conduct an enquiry into imprisonment and recidivism in QLD the final report was sent to the Queensland Government on 1 August 2019 and publicly released on 31 January 2020. The commission found that "all available evidence shows the war on drugs fails to restrict usage or supply" . The commission found decriminalisation would improve the lives of drug users without increasing the rate of drug use and Ultimately the commission recommended that the Queensland government legalise cannabis.[36]

Usage[edit]

According to J. Copeland from the NCPIC and others,[37] cannabis in Australia is commonly smoked as a cluster (or "cone", similar to "bowls" as known in the United States) of the flowering heads (buds) or resin glands (also known as hashish) of the female plant. Typically, cannabis is smoked using a bong, pipe or joint. Cannabis can be baked into foods such as butter to be used in recipes such as cakes and brownies. There is an increasing prevalence of electric vapourisers for inhalation of the drug.[38] Cannabis is also consumed as cannabis oil.

Cannabis was not commonly used in Australia until the 1970s. Since then it has gradually increased until the late 1990s when it was at its highest usage. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia.[39] Patterns of use are similar to those throughout the developed world with heaviest use occurring in the early 20s, followed by a steady decline into the 30s. Ninety percent of experimental or social recreational users of cannabis do not go on to use the substance daily or for a prolonged period; most discontinue its use by their late 20s.[40]

Consumption[edit]

2010-2020

Cannabis continues to be the world’s most widely used illicit drug, with an estimated annual prevalence of 3.8% of the adult population aged 15–64 years, or the equivalent of 188 million people (ranging between 164 to 219 million) having used cannabis at least once in 2017 (UNODC 2019).[1]

The 2016 NDSHS showed that cannabis continues to have the highest reported prevalence of lifetime and recent consumption among the general population, compared with other illicit drugs (Tables S2.31 and S2.32).[1]

  • For people aged 14 and over in Australia in 2016, 35% (or approximately 6.9 million) had used cannabis in their lifetime and 10.4% (or 2.1 million) used cannabis in the prior 12 months (Figure CANNABIS1).[1]
  • Recent and lifetime use of cannabis has remained relatively stable over the past decade but there were some statistically significant changes among different age groups (AIHW 2017) (Tables S2.38 and S2.39).[1]

2000 - 2010

According to the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey,[41] cannabis was used at least once by one-third of all Australians aged 14 years or older, and 1.6 million people reported using cannabis in the preceding 12 months.[41] Of 12- to 15-year-olds, 2.7% reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months, compared with 15% of 16- and 17-year-olds and 19% of 18- and 19-year-olds.[41]

Results indicate that males aged 14 years or older were slightly more likely than their female counterparts to have ever used cannabis (37.1% versus 30.0%), and one in five teenagers aged 14 to 19 reported having used cannabis. This difference is seen across all age groups except the 14- to 19-year-olds, in which there is little difference between males and females in terms of lifetime and past-year use.[41]

Of the entire population, those aged 30 to 39 years were the most likely (54.6%) to have used cannabis at some time in their lives. According to McLaren and Mattick,[15] the lower proportion of cannabis use among older age groups compared with younger users is even more striking when recent use is assessed; males aged 14 and older were more likely than corresponding females to have used cannabis in the previous 12 months (1.0 million and 0.6 million, respectively). 12.9% of teenagers aged 14 to 19 had used cannabis in the previous 12 months; those aged 20 to 29 were the most likely age group to have used cannabis in the previous 12 months, with one in five having done so.

According to Hall,[42] although rates of cannabis use are considerable, most people who use cannabis do so infrequently. According to the 2004 household survey,[43] approximately half of all recent cannabis users used the drug less than once a month. However, the proportion of recent cannabis users who use cannabis every day is not considered trivial; it is cited at 16% by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Those aged 30 to 39 were most likely to use cannabis every day. The 2004 household survey also shows that of all respondents who used cannabis on a regular basis, the average number of cones or joints smoked on any one day was 3.2.

Statistics show that between 1995 and 2007[41][43] (after peaking in 1998), the proportion of both males and females aged 14 years or older who had used cannabis in the previous 12 months declined steadily. Between 2004 and 2007, the decline was significant. Recent cannabis use dropped steadily since 1998 and significantly between 2004 and 2007—from 11.3% to 9.1%, the lowest proportion seen since 1993. Cross-sectional analysis of household survey data shows the age of initiation into cannabis is decreasing over time. According to the Mental Health Council of Australia in 2006,[44] the average age of first use for 12– to 19-year-olds was 14.9 years—significantly lower than in previous years.

The percentage of school aged students admitting to past year Cannabis use reduced from 32% in 1996 to 14% in 2005.[45] Cannabis is considered relatively easy to obtain in Australia, with 17.1% of the population recording that they were offered (or had the opportunity to use) cannabis.[41]

Indigenous Australians[edit]

Historical and social factors have contributed to the widespread use of tobacco and alcohol among indigenous communities and according to Perkins, Clough and others, the use of illicit drugs (cannabis in particular) is higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than among the non-indigenous population of Australia.[46][47]

Little detailed information is available on cannabis use in urban or remote indigenous communities. J. Copeland from the NCPIC and others[48] cite 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey results showing that 27% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents reported using cannabis in the last 12 months, compared with 13% of non-indigenous Australians. However, these results are likely to under-report cannabis use in non-urban Aboriginal populations; communities are often small, isolated and highly mobile, making data collection problematic.[44] What little detailed information is available on remote indigenous communities comes mainly from targeted studies of several communities in the Top End of Australia's Northern Territory.[49]

Studies that do provide information on cannabis use within the indigenous population show pattern of problematic cannabis abuse that exceeds that seen in the mainstream non-indigenous population. A survey conducted in the mid-1980s by Watson and others[50] failed to detect any cannabis use in Top End indigenous communities. However, by the late 1990s the Aboriginal Research Council provided information suggesting that cannabis was used by 31% of males and 8% of females in eastern Arnhem Land. A further study in 2002 found that cannabis was being used regularly by 67% of males and 22% of females aged 13 to 36.[49] A survey about drug use conducted in 1997 of two NSW populations of Aboriginal Australians found that 38% had used Cannabis.[51]

As part of the 2004 National Drug Strategy,[43] a survey was conducted assessing drug use among indigenous populations living in urban areas. Results showed that 48% had tried cannabis at least once, and 22% had used cannabis in the previous year. Regular cannabis use (at least weekly) was also more common among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities than non-indigenous groups (11% and 4%, respectively).

A statewide survey of students[when?] in New South Wales indicated that the use of cannabis is significantly higher among indigenous students.[52] Researchers noted that, after adjusting for socio-demographic variables, indigenous students were 1.6 times more likely to have ever tried cannabis than non-indigenous students.

The data describing cannabis use in the indigenous population compared with non-indigenous use varies in the ratio of recent cannabis use to those respondents who have ever used cannabis. In the non-indigenous population, rates of cannabis use in the last 12 months are a third of those ever using cannabis; however, researchers found only a few percentage-points' difference between rates of regular and lifetime use within the indigenous population.[49]

According to McLaren and Mattick,[15] the reasons for high rates of cannabis use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are complex and likely to be related to the social determinants of drug use. Risk factors associated with harmful substance use are often related to poor health and social well-being, stemming from the alienation and dispossession experienced by this population.[53] Spooner and Hetherington confirm that many of the social determinants of harmful substance abuse are disproportionately present in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.[54]

In June 2020, it was revealed that New South Wales Police had pursued criminal charges against more than 82% of Indigenous people caught with small amounts of cannabis, compared with only 52% of non-indigenous people. In other words, Indigenous people were very likely to get criminally charged, while non-Indigenous people were more likely to receive only a warning. The data was obtained by The Guardian using freedom of information laws.[55]

Synthetic cannabinoids[edit]

Before June 2011, synthetic cannabinoids were relatively unknown in Australia.[56] However, compulsory employee drug tests at Western Australian mines found that 1 in 10 employees had consumed compounds found in synthetic marijuana. Synthetic marijuana is known as a recreational drug that mimics the effects of cannabis.[57] Its popular usage as opposed to naturally-grown marijuana was attributed to the fact that users could obtain a "legal high",[58] as the compounds in synthetic marijuana were not yet listed as illegal on the Australian Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons [SUSMP] – the governing body of drug listing in Australia. As a result of such, the Western Australian government banned the seven most commonly detected synthetic cannabinoids, followed suit by the federal government in July that year, but the ban lapsed in October 2013.[59]

Due to its popularity among recreational drug users, health professionals began researching the drug. As a result of a study by the Drug and Alcohol Review, it was found that 291 of 316 participants reported side effects in an online survey pertaining to the patterns of synthetic marijuana use. These side-effects included panic, vomiting, depression and psychosis and some felt the side effects were serious enough to consider seeking medical assistance.[60]

An additional study conducted with the assistance of the UNSW, found that of 1100 self-reported synthetic drug users, 10% of individuals who had admitted to trying synthetic marijuana felt they were going to die, and 75% said they wouldn't try it again.[61]

People who use large quantities of cannabis may become sedated or disoriented and may experience toxic psychosis – not knowing who they are, where they are, or what time it is. High doses may also cause fluctuating emotions, fragmentary thoughts, paranoia, panic attacks, hallucinations and feelings of unreality.

Legislation and policy[edit]

In 1913 Australia signed the International Hague Convention on Narcotics, and extended importation controls over drugs other than opium. 1921 saw the first international drug treaty (The Opium Convention), and in 1925 the Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs saw restrictions imposed on the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, exportation and use of cannabis, opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin for medical and scientific purposes only.[17]

In 1926 the Commonwealth Government banned the importation of cannabis; in 1928 Victoria passed the Poisons Act and became the first state to control cannabis, followed by South Australia (1934), NSW (1935), Queensland (1937), Western Australia (1950) and Tasmania (1959). In 1940 the Commonwealth extended import restrictions on Indian hemp, including preparations containing hemp.[17]

In 1961 Australia signed the International Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs This convention supports an obligation to make cannabis available as a medicine. Most current state and federal cannabis control Acts in Australia are in contradiction to this.

On 12 November 2017 Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) made Low THC Hemp food legal for human consumption in Australia.[62]

According to the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, the National Drug Strategy and its substance-specific strategies were written for the general population of Australia. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Complementary Action Plan 2003–2006 was developed as a supplement to the national action plans so that these plans could be applied to Australia's indigenous communities.[53]

At a national level, there is no overriding law that deals with cannabis-related offences; instead, each state and territory enacts its own legislation. According to Copeland and others,[48] while some jurisdictions enforce criminal penalties for possession, use and supply, others enact civil penalties for minor cannabis offences. Conviction for a criminal offence will attract a criminal record and can be punishable by jail time and harsh fines. Civil penalties, however, do not result in a criminal record and are generally handled by lesser fines, mandatory treatment and diversion programmes.[48]

Multiple committees have been formed in recent years, at both federal and state levels. One federal committee formed by the senate in 2019 recommended amnesty for the "possession and/or cultivation of cannabis for genuine self-medication purposes".[63] A committee in Victoria was formed in 2019 to form an inquiry towards the use of cannabis in Victoria.[64] The report be released in early 2021 and could lead to the legalisation of recreational cannabis in the state.

Australian states and territories[edit]

In the Australian Capital Territory, possession of up to 50 grams of dry material, 150 grams of wet material, and cultivation of 2 plants per individual up to 4 plants per household was legalised after a bill passed on 25 September 2019, with the new law to come into effect on 31 January 2020.[8]

In South Australia possession of small quantities of cannabis is also decriminalised, attracting a fine similar to that for a parking ticket. However, penalties for growing cannabis have become harsher since the advent of widespread large-scale cultivation. There is much confusion on the subject, with many believing that possession of a small amount of cannabis is legal.[65]

In Western Australia, as of August 2011: a person found in possession of ten grams or less of cannabis will receive a Cannabis Intervention Requirement notice to attend a mandatory one on one counselling session. Quantities larger than this attract a penalty of A$2000 or two years in jail, or both. A person found in possession of more than 100g of cannabis would be deemed to have that quantity for supply and could face a penalty of A$20,000 or two years in jail. It is also illegal for cannabis smoking implements to be displayed in shops or sold, with fines up to A$10,000 for sales to adults and jail for up to two years or a fine of up to A$24,000 for selling to minors.[66] Opposing political sides have accused the government of changing the laws to appear tough on drugs in response to an increased public fear of clandestine drug labs following a number of them exploding in suburban areas, such as the Lilac Pass Incident.

In New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, possession and use of cannabis is a criminal offence.[67] Diversion programs in these states aim to divert offenders into education, assessment and treatment programs. In New South Wales, if one is caught with up to 15 g of cannabis, at police discretion up to two cautions can be issued.[67] In Tasmania up to three cautions can be issued for possession of up to 50 g of cannabis, with a hierarchy of intervention and referrals for treatment with each caution.[67] In Queensland a person caught with a personal amount of cannabis can receive 1 caution.

Similarly, in Victoria, up to 50 g of cannabis will attract a caution and the opportunity to attend an education program (Victoria Cannabis Cautioning Program); only two cautions will be issued. In Queensland, possession of cannabis or any schedule 1 or 2 drug specified in the Drugs Misuse Regulation 1987 carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years; however, jail terms for minor possession is very rare. Possession of smoking paraphernalia is also a criminal offence in Queensland. However, under the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 a person who admits to carrying under 50 g (and is not committing any other offence) must be offered a drug diversion program.

Adults in the Northern Territory found in possession of up to 50 g of marijuana, one gram of hash oil, 10 g of hash or cannabis seed, or two non-hydroponic plants can be fined A$200 with 28 days to expiate rather than face a criminal charge.

In Queensland, it is an offence to give, distribute, sell, administer, transport or supply a dangerous drug. In Queensland, if drugs are located in a person’s house, car, or other place of which they are the occupier, then they are 'deemed' to be in possession of the drug unless they can prove otherwise. Importation and trafficking of dangerous drugs are each offences that carry maximum penalties of life imprisonment.[68]

With the rapid expansion in hydroponic cannabis cultivation, the Australian Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act (1985) was amended in 2006; the amount of cannabis grown indoors under hydroponic conditions that qualifies as a "commercial quantity" or as a "large quantity" was reduced.[67] In South Australia, it is now up to 2 years jail and up to a $2000 fine, despite public backlash.

Medicinal use[edit]

The use and cultivation of cannabis is illegal in Australia without authorisation, justification or excuse under law. Medical necessity is also a legitimate defence for some people in Australia for e.g. Clinical trials of cannabis for medicinal purposes have been suggested by multiple governments. Currently, the only state to start medical trials is NSW, having started the first of three trials in January 2015. This first trial is focused on treating severe epilepsy in children.[69] Support for a change in legislation permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes remained relatively unchanged between 2004 and 2007. Two-thirds (68.6%) of respondents in the 2007 NDSHS survey supported "a change in legislation permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes" and almost three-quarters (73.6%) supported "a clinical trial for people to use marijuana to treat medical conditions". Females were slightly more likely than males to support either of these measures.

A media report on 16 May 2013 stated that a New South Wales (NSW) parliamentary committee has recommended the use of medically-prescribed cannabis for terminally ill patients and has supported the legalisation of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals on such grounds. As part of the recommendation, the committee has called upon the cooperation of the federal Australian government for a scheme that would allow patients to possess up to 15 grams of cannabis. Also, both the patients and their carers would be required to obtain a certificate from a specialist, registration with the Department of Health and a photo Identification card.[70]

The committee's report, which included Liberal, National, Labor, Greens and Shooters party members, was unanimous, but the document acknowledged that NSW had limited powers, as federal laws and bodies such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration governed the regulation of drugs. Also, the committee did not recommend the use of cannabis for chronic pain or for the decriminalisation of marijuana cultivation for personal use.[70] Ellomo Medical Cannabis P/L and Mullaway's Medical Cannabis P/L[71] are two Australian medicinal cannabis companies, and the former was responsible for a submission to the 2013 NSW parliamentary enquiry into the use of cannabis for medical purposes.[72]

In February 2014, TasmanHealth Cannabinoids Pty Ltd proposed trials of cultivation and processing of medicinal cannabis in Tasmania in conjunction with the University of Tasmania, this was approved in principal by the then Labor Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne, but subsequently rejected by the incoming Liberal Health Minister Michael Ferguson.[73] The company then was granted a licence by the Norfolk Island Government to produce medical cannabis, but that licence was overturned by the island's Administrator, Gary Hardgrave.[74]

On 17 October 2015, the Federal Government announced that it would legalise the growing of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes.[75] On 24 February 2016, the Australian parliament made amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act that legalised the growing of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes.[76] Subsequently, the usage of medicinal cannabis was legalised at the federal level on 1 November 2016.

Victoria became the first state to legalise medicinal cannabis on 12 April 2016, with prescriptions also available in New South Wales and Western Australia the same year.[77] Queensland and Tasmania followed in 2017, whilst South Australia and the Northern Territory are yet to legalise medical marijuana.[78]

On 17 February 2017, The Office of Drug Control in the Federal Department of Health issued the very first Cannabis Research licence under the medicinal cannabis provisions of the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967.[79]

Supply[edit]

Medicinal cannabis products and there supply in Australia are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia.[80]

Prevalence and price[edit]

2010 - 2020

According to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare cannabis is relatively easy to obtain in Australia. Regular injecting drug users and users of ecstasy or other stimulants report that cannabis is "easy" or "very easy" to obtain. This has remained stable over time, as has purity and pricing. Perceived availability was the highest for hydroponic cannabis (88% of IDRS users and 90% of EDRS users rated it 'easy'or very easy' to obtain). Bush cannabis (78% of IDRS users and 78% of EDRS users rated it 'easy or very easy' to obtain). The primary source of cannabis reported by recent users aged 14 years or older was friends (66%), followed by dealers (19.9%) in 2016 (AIHW 2017) (Table S2.5).[81]

2000 - 2010

The prevalence of cannabis in Australia indicates that the plant is widely available. The University of New South Wales' National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre's Drug Trends Bulletin for October 2009 shows that 58% of cannabis users in NSW believe hydroponically-grown cannabis to be "very easily" available; 43% believe bush-grown cannabis is "very easy" to find. 0% considered hydro cannabis "very difficult" to find and 5% considered bush-grown cannabis to be "very difficult" to find. The results show that figures for the ACT are lower (42% believe hydroponically-grown cannabis is "very easy" to find, as do 29% for bush-grown cannabis. 3% and 7%, respectively, believe that cannabis is "very difficult" to find).

Victoria shows similar figures to NSW; 66% and 32%, respectively, believe cannabis is "very easy" to find and 0% and 3%, respectively, believe it is "very difficult" to find. Tasmania shows similar statistics. In South Australia fewer people consider cannabis (either hydroponically- or bush-grown) "very easy" to find (32% and 37% respectively), with the majority considering it "easy" to find (46% and 21%). Western Australia reports similar statistics as South Australia, as does the Northern Territory. Queensland reports statistics similar to NSW with 64% and 56% of respondents reporting hydroponically grown cannabis and bush cannabis, respectively, "very easy" to find and 3% and 6%, respectively, considering it "very difficult" to find.

The majority of cannabis is domestically produced, with outdoor and hydroponic cultivation common in all states and territories. Single and others note that Australia’s climate and the amount of space available is conducive to outdoor cultivation. According to the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) the average price for one gram of cannabis ranged from A$20–A$35, although prices in remote areas can be significantly higher. In remote regions of the Northern Territories, for example, the price can reach $50–$100 for a gram.

According to Stafford and Burns, an ounce of hydroponically grown cannabis has risen from A$300–$320 between 2008 and 2009; an ounce of bush weed has increased from A$200–$229. NDSHS notes that one in six Australians reported that they were offered or had the opportunity to use cannabis. The ACC reports that hydroponically-grown cannabis is described by 75% of the 2007 NDSHS respondents as being "easy" or "very easy" to obtain; "bush cannabis" (outdoor-grown cannabis), by contrast, is not as readily available and was reported by over half of the respondents as being "easy" to obtain.

Respondents in the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) October 2009 Drug Trends Bulletin were asked to rate the purity and potency of cannabis. Statistics show that, in general, hydroponically-grown cannabis is considered to have high purity and potency (NSW 61%; ACT 54%; Victoria 58%; Tasmania 66%; South Australia 65%; Western Australia 69%; Northern Territory 38% [14% low; 31% medium; 17% fluctuates]; Queensland 58%). Bush-grown cannabis is considered to have medium purity and potency (explained by the greater variables in production), with a number of respondents categorising bush grown cannabis as poor-quality. Respondents reported daily or near-daily use of cannabis.

According to the 2007 NDSHS, 68.5% of cannabis users obtained cannabis from a friend or acquaintance. 4.8% acquired it from a relative, and 19.5% obtained it from a dealer. 7.2% claimed to have acquired the drug in another way, including "grew/made/picked it myself".

Seizures and arrests[edit]

2010 - 2020[edit]

In Australia in 2017-2018 according to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare the majority of the number of national illicit drug seizures (52.4%) and arrests (48.8%) were for cannabis. However cannabis only accounted for 28.3% of the weight of illicit drugs seized. There were 72,381 cannabis arrests in 2017–18, with the number of national cannabis arrests increasing 30% over the last decade. The number and weight of national cannabis seizures has also increased over the decade—the number of seizures increased from 46,875 in 2008–09 to 59,139 in 2017–18 and the weight of seizures increased from 5,573 kilograms in 2008–09 to 8,655 kilograms in 2017–18.[1]

2000 - 2010[edit]

According to the Australian Crime Commission (ACC),[82] cannabis accounted for the greatest proportion of national illicit drug arrests and seizures in 2007/2008 – 5409 kg (5,409,000 grams) were seized nationally over 12 months, accounting for 64% of illicit drugs seized in Australia. This equates to 41,660 cannabis seizures, or 68% of all seizures.[82] 2007/2008 saw 52,465 cannabis arrests, a 7% decrease from figures for 2006/2007. The majority of arrests continue to occur in Queensland. Despite a slight decrease from 2006, cannabis continues to be the most commonly detected drug amongst police detainees. Self-reporting within this group identifies hydroponically-grown heads as both the preferred and actual form of cannabis used by the majority of detainees.[82] Furthermore, even though the total amount of cannabis arrests has declined since the mid 1990s, suppliers of cannabis are still arrested more often than suppliers of any other drug. For example, in 2005–06 over half of all the people arrested for supplying drugs were supplying cannabis.[83]

Advocacy[edit]

A number of Australian and international groups have promoted reform in regard to 21st-century Australian drug policy. Organisations such as Australian Parliamentary Group on Drug Law Reform, Responsible Choice, the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Norml Australia, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Australia and Drug Law Reform Australia advocate for drug law reform without the benefit of government funding. The membership of some of these organisations is diverse and consists of the general public, social workers, lawyers and doctors, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy has been a formative influence on a number of these organisations.

Public support[edit]

Support for the legalisation of illicit drugs declined slightly between 2004 and 2007 and support for the legalisation for personal use of cannabis fell between 2004 and 2007, from 27.0% to 21.2%. Males were more likely than females to support legalisation (in 2007, 23.8% versus 18.5%).[43]

Cannabis culture[edit]

The Nimbin Hemp Embassy is a non-profit association that was established in 1992. The embassy's objectives are cannabis law reform via an education program for the community about hemp products and cannabis and "promoting a more tolerant and compassionate attitude to people in general".[84] According to the HEMP Embassy website, "the Nearly NORML Nimbin group formed in 1988 as the district's first enduring drug law reform outfit and later became Nimbin HEMP – Help End Marijuana Prohibition – then later in 1992 the name changed to the Nimbin HEMP Embassy. Generally the group discussed the cannabis laws of NSW and how they might be changed"[85]

In 1993, as a passive response to police raids in Nimbin and increasingly negative local reaction, the HEMP Embassy created the inaugural "Let It Grow" May Day rally and street parade, a celebratory and non-provocative form of political action. This became the first-ever MardiGrass, now a well-known cannabis-law-reform rally and festival held annually in the town of Nimbin.

The Australian Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) political party has a number of objectives, including:

  • endorsing candidates in federal elections
  • legalising cannabis in all states and territories in Australia for
    • personal use
    • medical and therapeutic use
    • industrial purposes
  • collecting and disseminating knowledge relating to any or all of the Party's aims
  • campaigning (and lobbying) in all sectors of the community
  • organising fundraising for the Party
  • conducting and facilitating research relating to any or all of the Party's aims
  • applying for public funding for electoral purposes, in accordance with the provisions of the Australian Electoral Act (1918) as amended
  • do all which may be necessary, expedient or desirable to carry out the aims of the Party[86]

The aims of the party centre on legalising both possession of small amounts of cannabis and the cultivation of cannabis for personal use, as well as legalising cannabis for medical use. A more radical proposal is that of "drug-free" zones which would "address issues of public consumption of cannabis through community policing"[87] and the party supports greater funding for treatment services. In 2001 and 2004 the National President of the HEMP party, Michael Balderstone, ran as a Senate candidate. The party did not contest the 2007 Federal elections because it had been de-registered and could not re-register in time. It is campaigning to enroll more members, to be eligible to register again.[88][89]

Following in the footsteps of the Cannabis Cup in the Netherlands, the Cannabis Cup in Australia is a competition run by MardiGrass to judge strains of cannabis. Growers submit samples of their crop for judging and the Hemp Olympics, held at MardiGrass, includes events such as bong throwing, joint rolling and "a growers' Ironperson competition, which requires participants to crawl through lantana tunnels dragging large bags of fertilizer".[90]

Some of the street names of Cannabis in Australia are Mary Jane, bud, dope, smoko, green, sesh, chop, spliff, honk, ganja, yarndi, mull, hydro, green action, heads, hooch, weed, joints, cones, laughing lucerne, chronic and 420.[91]

Australians have even begun to transition into utilizing the online space when it comes to accessing and purchasing their favorite cannabis accessories. Online trends differ from city to city, and per capita, Brisbane, Adelaide and Launceston are searching online the most; followed by Toowoomba, Melbourne, Sydney and Gold Coast. As far as the cannabis accessories searched for the most online, Australians are particularly keen on shopping for bongs as they make up 72% of searches, while vaporizers make up 15%. These higher quality methods of ingesting marijuana smoke or vapors are followed by pipes at 10% and rolling papers at just 3%.[92]

See also[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Illicit drug use in Australia
  • Global Commission on Drug Policy – ENFORCEMENT OF DRUG LAWS: REFOCUSING ON ORGANIZED CRIME ELITES 2020
  • Global Commission on Drug Policy – REGULATION – THE RESPONSIBLE CONTROL OF DRUGS 2018
  • Global Commission On Drug Policy – The World Drug Perception Problem: Countering Prejudices About People Who Use Drugs 2017
  • Global Commission on Drug Policy – Advancing Drug Policy Reform: a new approach to decriminalization 2016
  • Global Commission on Drug Policy – The Negative Impact of Drug Control on Public Health: The Global Crisis of Avoidable Pain 2015
  • Global Commission on Drug Policy – Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work 2014
  • Global Commission on Drug Policy – The War on Drugs 2011
  • A Social History of Drug Control in Australia, Research Paper 8, Royal Commission into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs South Australia, 1979 (The Sackville Commission)
  • Torch the Joint
  • Tony Bogdanoski, "Accommodating the medical use of marijuana: surveying the differing legal approaches in Australia, the United States and Canada" (2010) 17 Journal of Law and Medicine 508.
  • Tony Bogdanoski, "A dose of human rights: an antidote to the criminal prohibition of cannabis for medical use?" (2009) 33 Criminal Law Journal 251.
  • Charles Martin, "Medical Use of Cannabis in Australia: 'Medical necessity' defences under current Australian law and avenues for reform" (2014) 21(4) Journal of Law and Medicine 875.

External links[edit]