As drug laws around the world are being changed to better align with our modern day views on cannabis, Australia has remained hesitant. Marijuana is still illegal all over the country, with just three states having decriminalised certain amounts of possession. Even the use of medical marijuana is prohibited, though legalising it has been considered over the past few years. So why is it that the government are reluctant to follow much of the Western world when it comes to drug policy? And what would be the benefits of legalising or decriminalising the drug for the countries economy, businesses, lifestyle and health?
For nearly one hundred years now the Australian government has aligned its drug policy with that of the major powers in the West, mainly the US and the UK. This has lead to cannabis being viewed as a dangerous and illicit drug for decades and the punishments for growing, selling or possessing it have always been tough. However, the past decade has seen a shift in policy from many countries in the West, with Portugal and some states in the US making the most significant moves towards more progressive cannabis laws. In fact, 21 US states have now decriminalised the drug to some extent, with five of these going as far as to decriminalise both recreational and medicinal use. This means that people selling or using marijuana are no longer punished for their actions.
So what are the benefits of decriminalising cannabis? To start with, the fact that those caught possessing small amounts are no longer given prison sentences, can only be a good thing. As it stands some states in Australia currently have fairly punitive laws when it comes to marijuana. In Western Australia, for example, a person caught with just 10 grams can be given a 10,000 dollar fine or be sentenced to two years in prison. A prison term or steep fine such as this, for possessing such a small amount of the drug, does seem harsh, especially when one considers the consequences. It is not rare for jail terms to cost people their jobs, families, education or, more simply, their hope. Once in prison it becomes easy to get caught in the vicious circle that is crime, and reoffending rates here are quite high.
The lack of prison terms for small time drug offences would, quite simply, ruin less lives, allowing people to go about their day without the fear of being banged up in jail for the chose of herb they smoke. On top of this, law enforcement agencies would be spending less time and money on an issue that so much of the world has now decided is not a threat or a danger, allowing them to focus their efforts on more dangerous drugs, gangs and crimes.
This is not the only benefit of decriminalising cannabis, just the first in a long list. One of the most significant bonuses would be for Australian businesses, and the economy as a whole. In Colorado, USA, one of the afore mentioned states to have made the recreational and medicinal use and sale of marijuana legal, the state government are making a fortune in marijuana tax. With shops and cafes opening up all over the state, the tax being collected has nearly quadrupled in the past year. In 2015 they made an estimated 125 million dollars from cannabis tax alone. This is a significantly large figure that provides them with money to spend on their state that they simply did not have before and Colorado isn’t the only place showing these large scale profits.
With huge amounts of money to be made from the sales of a drug that will be smoked whether it is legal or not, it makes sense for the Australian government to look into following in America’s footsteps, but it would not just be the government that would reap the rewards. A change in policy would open up a whole new market for Australian entrepreneurs. The smoking paraphernalia shops that already exist would experience a growth in their business and more shops would likely open, creating a dynamic and competitive market.
While some of these businesses already exist here, selling bongs, vaporisers and other types of smoking equipment, they are faced with frequent problems. One of these is the difficulty of obtaining business insurance and a bank account. Most insurers are unwilling to touch companies that sell cannabis related products while the drug remains illegal. There are a few reasons for this but the main one, as is always the case with insurance companies, is risk. The risk that the shop will get found to be doing something illegal, the risk that a shift in drug policy could see the business close, the risk that the business will not be a success due to the current legislation on marijuana.
With the decriminalisation of the herb these small, but potentially successful, businesses would be able to operate with a greater freedom and the insurance companies and banks would see an increase in customers.
While decriminalising weed would clearly be massively beneficial to the Australian economy, there is another part of Australian life, a more important part, that would also experience a change for the better. At the current time, due to the fact that cannabis remains illegal, it is very difficult to regulate the quality of the product on the market. This means that incredibly strong strains are making their way into peoples’ hands. These powerful strains, such as ‘super skunk’, have been linked to psychosis by scientists around the world. Upon decriminalising the drug, the government would have far more control over which strains made it on to the market and which strains did not. This would hopefully see a far safer product being smoked in Australia and this would naturally lead to an improvement in the health of smokers.
As if all of these reasons weren’t enough to convince the government to seriously reconsider the current drug policy, there are more benefits. Organised crime would suffer as cannabis would be grown and sold legally. There would no longer be the need to import the drug or grow the drug in the illegal fashion that we do today. There would be no need for gangs to run the drug round the country, and all of the money that they are making from this illicit product today, would be in the government’s hands tomorrow.
With so many clear benefits resulting from the decriminalising or legalising of cannabis it is hard to comprehend why this is a debate that still rages on. Here we have the opportunity to lower the amount of people incarcerated for minor offences, lower the amount of lives ruined, lower the health risks associated with smoking chemically altered strains of weed, lower the money brought in by organised crime, create greater opportunities for Australian entrepreneurs, insurance companies and banks and make so much money from tax that an already strong economy would become even stronger. This is an opportunity to move forward with the times and become a more progressive, understanding nation, we should take it.