Australia and New Zealand are moving in different directions regarding recreational cannabis
Cannabis legalisation is a trending topic in both New Zealand and Australia, and both nations have recently relaxed their laws around the medical use of marijuana. However, these economies have a different attitude and approach toward recreational marijuana.
Reports and surveys indicate that New Zealand’s attitude towards the use of cannabis is changing positively, driving nationwide support for legalisation. On the other hand, Australia appears to be very strict with recreational cannabis, denouncing the proposed policies for its legalisation.
Here is a brief comparison of Australia and New Zealand’s approach to cannabis:
New Zealand’s approach to cannabis legalisation for recreational purposes
The New Zealand government has promised to hold a binding referendum on whether recreational cannabis should be legal. The justice minister, Andrew Little, announced that the referendum is due to be held in 2020. The country appears to be the first in the world to put the issue to a nationwide vote. The announcement came just a week after New Zealand’s Parliament passed a law to legalise medical marijuana countrywide.
Recreational cannabis has been gathering overwhelming support in New Zealand in recent years. According to an October poll conducted by One News, 46 percent of the total 1,006 eligible voters favoured the legalisation of recreational marijuana.
New Zealand’s largest licensed medical marijuana firm, Helius Therapeutics, commissioned Horizon Research to survey nationals on their attitude towards the drug and law reform.
The survey concluded that 60 per cent of New Zealanders said they would vote to support cannabis legalisation for personal use. Sixty-eight percent believed that any tax revenue from legal marijuana research should be invested in health services, and more than two-thirds of survey participants believe that cannabis legalisation will result in a reduced crime rate.
Economist and TOP leader Geoff Simmons estimated a potential tax revenue between $180 million and $240 million, following cannabis legalisation in New Zealand.
Joseph Boden, a professor at the University of Otago's Department of Psychological Medicine, pointed towards potential risks of cannabis legalisation. Dr Boden wrote in the NZ Medical Journal that cannabis contributors mostly discuss cannabis as a relatively harmless drug, and imply that a change in the law will only have beneficial results. He argues that evidence from the Christchurch Health and Development Study and the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study points towards potential risks of cannabis legalisation. The risks include education delay, increased risk of psychotic symptoms, respiratory impairment, and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.
Boden suggests legalisation should follow decriminalisation to reduce marijuana-related harm. In his opinion, legalisation should be in place to stop cannabis shops becoming as common as liquor outlets.
Australia's approach to cannabis legalisation
Thousands of Australians can now easily access and use medicinal marijuana to treat medical conditions, such as chronic pain and anorexia.
When Federal health Minister Greg Hunt was asked if cannabis would be legal for recreational purposes, he said that a response to cannabis was a matter for individual states. However, recently Hunt denounced a policy to legalise recreational cannabis announced by federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale.
Senator DI Natale has proposed a policy for regulating the use and sale of marijuana by adults in Australia, which according to him, would raise hundreds of millions of tax dollars. However, Hunt said the policy would encourage a highly addictive and dangerous drug.
Recently, a parliament committee recommended that the Victorian Government establish an advisory council to consider drug policy issues. According to the committee, the council should check, analyse and investigate international procedures for regulating the use and supply of cannabis for recreational purposes. The committee advised the Victorian Government on policy outcomes like prevalence rates, public safety, and the black market.
The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 35 per cent of Australians support the legalisation for adult use of cannabis, higher than 26 per cent in 2013.
Two different tracks
The growing support for recreational cannabis in New Zealand, supported by a suggested national referendum, suggests that citizens will soon be able to legally access marijuana for adult use. However, marijuana advocates in Australia still need have a lot of work to do in order to make the government seriously think about the legalisation of recreational cannabis.