Cannabis is being decriminalised around the world, are we next?

41 per cent of Australians support the personal use of cannabis.
41 per cent of Australians support the personal use of cannabis.
Looking around the world it would be fair to assume that Australia is failing to take advantage of its opportunity when it comes to cannabis.

The United States is currently as polarised as it has been since the Civil War, but in the 2020 election voters agreed on one thing and that was cannabis. Every vote initiative involving the plant’s decriminalisation or legalisation was passed across the country.

Australia’s closest cultural neighbour New Zealand also grabbed the cannabis debate by the scruff of the neck – narrowly voting no to legalising the drug in November last year.

According to 2019 government data, 41 per cent of Australians support the personal use of cannabis. That is a 15pc spike from when the same data was recorded in 2013.

National Drug Research Institute director Professor Simon Lenton said the data is more than likely an underestimate and that more Australians are probably in favour of cannabis legislation than not.

“There’s no doubt that attitudes are softening surrounding support for cannabis legalisation,” he said.

Dr Lenton said despite the changing of perception it is not useful to compare Australian policy with other countries.

“The way the United States is structured, they’re always orientated to commercial and profit driven markets,” he said.

“Industry has a much bigger job in shaping regulations in America.”

Dr Lenton said Australia needs to pave its own path and make sure the country has the right regulatory safe guards to avoid a potential health crisis.

“There’s two ends to the spectrum; we (NDRI) don’t believe there’s a substantial case for criminalising cannabis use, however, at the other end of the spectrum there’s some major public health problems if Australia were to go to a fully commercial profit driven model.”

Dr Lenton said politicians will follow the public demand, and that the momentum is leaning towards legalisation.

“There’s no doubt that public attitude will lead political action,” he said.

“Politicians are in a sense vote-junkies and they need endorsement from communities at each election, so it’s not expected that any politician will step too far out of public attitudes.”

Politicians are in a sense vote-junkies and they need endorsement from communities at each election, so it’s not expected that any politician will step too far out of public attitudes.

Professor Simon Lenton
NDRI recently conducted an inquiry into cannabis cultivation and found even Australia’s illicit growers are in favour of regulation.

“Illicit growers don’t want a free market, they know if that happened that the big players would be hopping in and doing what they always do,” Dr Lenton said.

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