Australia is no stranger to marijuana, cannabis, pot, weed or whatever you want to call it. The latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey indicated that approximately 36% of Australians had tried the plant in their lifetime and 10.4% had tried it in the last 12 months. The heaviest users were those in their 20s to 30s, which probably comes as little surprise. But a less predictable piece of data was that there was a slight upward trend in the amount of both males and females over 50 (and males over 40) who had used in the past twelve months over the course of the last three data intakes. The report notes that there was no link between socioeconomic status and tendency toward the plant.
The point that I am trying to stress is that Australians maintain a close relationship with the plant, despite efforts of law enforcement. Since at least 1928 Cannabis has been prohibited in some form in Australia, first in NSW, then Victoria and other jurisdictions then following suit. The current Australian National Drug Strategy is focused on 3 pillars, ‘demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction’. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has said that in 2009-10 we as a nation spent $1.7 billion on drug programs and 64% was spent on law enforcement, 22% on treatment, 9.7% on prevention and 2.2% on harm reduction. This means that only ¼ of our tax dollars are being spent on initiatives toward the NDS policy of demand reduction and effectively nothing being spent on harm reduction. Approximately 2/3rds of our tax dollars in relation to drug policy is being spent on the supply reduction (law enforcement) effort.
The most recent Australian Drug Data report from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission claims that drug markets in Australia ‘remain resilient’. This should come as no surprise, given that the Australian spending policy does not follow the NDS policy of ‘demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction’. The report states that law enforcement agencies across Australia should be adopting policy closer to the NDS, but at the same time, state that approximately 91% of cannabis related arrests are for regular consumers, while the number of arrests of suppliers is dropping slightly. The same report states that cannabis trends have maintained relatively stable among user populations, despite the hundreds of millions being spent on law enforcement Australia wide. This kind of ineffectiveness surely should point to a change in approach.
In addition to freeing up police time and resources, legalisation of marijuana has also been shown to lead to a decrease in crime for organized drug cartels in the USA. Overall, in states that have held cannabis laws the longest (Washington and Colorado), the results on crime have been mixed. Generally speaking though, this analysis points toward a positive shift in crime rates under legal weed.
The inefficacy of the drug war in Australia with regard to cannabis should come as secondary to the new data that is being published in light of the legalisation of the drug in 33 states for medicinal (and now in 10 states for recreational) purposes. New Frontier Data has recently published a range of analyses of the drug in the United States. The results are startling in several regards. They project that the 8.5 billion dollar cannabis industry will create 250,000 new jobs by 2020. They also project the demand for legal cannabis to grow from $10 billion in 2018 to $25 billion in 2025.
The cannabis industry has outpaced both tech and health in terms of job growth for 2017, growing by approximately 445%.
The amount of medical and recreational users are both on the rise according to the report, though even recreational users cite many varied reasons for their use, the top three being relaxation alongside anxiety and stress relief. Some of the other reasons include improved sleep, self-prescription for medical conditions, enjoying social experiences, or stimulating creativity.
According to other research, the world legal cannabis market is set to make significant grounds over the next decade. Spending on legal weed is projected to his $57 billion worldwide by 2027, with recreational use accounting for 2/3rds of that market and medicinal making up the remaining 1/3rd. The global market is being led by Canada and the USA, but other places are trying to make inroads. Mexico is set to become the latest nation to legalise, with their Supreme Court ruling that marijuana is a ‘fundamental right’. Thailand is also set to open its medicinal markets, perhaps setting the way for other Asian nations.
It appears that if the Australian government would like to produce jobs & growth as they say, they would enact a system for a well-regulated cannabis industry. If 10% of the population are actively smoking the plant now, that would imply a starting yearly consumer base of at least 2.4 million people. A consumer base that would only be set to grow as social stigmas dissolve.
Some of the features of a well regulated industry would be preferential control of businesses to community organisations, prevention of international corporate interference in domestic supplier ownership (a problem being seen in Thailand) & a taxation scheme based on USA models. Increased investment into medicinal research and publication of produced data about the plant can be used to help mitigate certain public health costs.
It also seems apparent that some of the taxation from this lucrative industry could be funneled into much needed renewable energy project development. This is something that Australia desperately needs to be funding in order to meet our meagre Paris Agreement obligations.
By Nathan Booth
Future planned articles on this topic include a detailed history of marijuana prohibition in Australia and worldwide & and a discussion of the wide ranging health benefits (and certain costs) of medicinal and recreational marijuana.