Parliamentary Hearing Explores the Pros and Cons of Legalising Cannabis in Australia

The Australian Parliament is currently conducting a historic inquiry into the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use in the country. The inquiry, which was initiated by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee, is examining the social, health, economic, and legal implications of cannabis legalisation, and the experiences of other jurisdictions that have legalised the drug.

The inquiry, which started in November 2022, has received over 1,000 submissions from various stakeholders, such as cannabis users, advocates, researchers, health professionals, law enforcement, industry representatives, and community groups. The inquiry has also held several public hearings, where it has heard from experts and witnesses, both in person and via video link.

The inquiry is expected to deliver its final report by June 30, 2023, and to make recommendations on whether and how cannabis should be legalised in Australia. The inquiry is seen as a significant step towards a national debate and a potential policy change on cannabis legalisation, which has been a contentious and controversial issue for decades.

The Arguments for Legalising Cannabis in Australia

The proponents of legalising cannabis in Australia argue that the current prohibition of the drug has failed to reduce its use and supply, and has caused more harm than good. They claim that legalising cannabis would have various benefits, such as:

  • Reducing the criminalisation and stigmatisation of cannabis users, who are often otherwise law-abiding citizens, and who face legal penalties, social discrimination, and barriers to employment, education, and health care.
  • Enhancing the quality and safety of cannabis products, which are currently unregulated and may contain harmful contaminants, additives, or synthetic cannabinoids, and which may vary in potency and purity.
  • Increasing the access and availability of cannabis for medical purposes, which are currently restricted and expensive, and which may benefit patients with various conditions, such as chronic pain, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.
  • Generating tax revenues and economic opportunities, which could be used to fund public services, such as health, education, and social welfare, and to create jobs and businesses in the cannabis industry.
  • Reducing the costs and harms associated with the enforcement of cannabis prohibition, which consume significant resources and divert attention from more serious crimes, and which may fuel corruption, violence, and organised crime.
  • Aligning with the global trend and public opinion, which are increasingly in favour of cannabis legalisation, and which have led to the legalisation of cannabis in several countries, such as Canada, Uruguay, Mexico, and South Africa, and in many states in the United States.

The Arguments against Legalising Cannabis in Australia

The opponents of legalising cannabis in Australia argue that the drug is harmful and addictive, and that legalising it would increase its use and abuse, and have negative consequences, such as:

  • Increasing the health risks and harms associated with cannabis use, which may include respiratory problems, cardiovascular problems, mental health problems, cognitive impairment, dependence, and psychosis, and which may affect vulnerable groups, such as young people, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Increasing the social and legal problems associated with cannabis use, which may include impaired driving, workplace accidents, family violence, child neglect, school dropout, and criminal involvement, and which may affect the safety and well-being of the users and the society.
  • Undermining the prevention and treatment efforts for cannabis use, which may be compromised by the normalisation and commercialisation of the drug, and which may face challenges in reaching and engaging the users, especially those who need help the most.
  • Creating a new and powerful cannabis industry, which may lobby for its interests and profits, and which may influence the regulation and taxation of the drug, and may market and advertise the drug to increase its demand and consumption.
  • Contradicting the international obligations and commitments of Australia, which are bound by several treaties and conventions that prohibit the non-medical use of cannabis, and which may affect the reputation and cooperation of Australia in the global arena.

A Possible and Probable Outcome

The outcome of the parliamentary inquiry into cannabis legalisation in Australia is uncertain, as it depends on various factors, such as the evidence and arguments presented by the stakeholders, the views and values of the committee members, the political and public support for the issue, and the feasibility and desirability of the policy options. However, some possible and probable scenarios are:

  • The inquiry recommends the legalisation of cannabis in Australia, and proposes a model and a roadmap for the implementation of the policy, which would require the cooperation and coordination of the federal, state, and territory governments, and the consultation and engagement of the relevant sectors and communities.
  • The inquiry does not recommend the legalisation of cannabis in Australia, but suggests some reforms and improvements to the current policy and practice, such as decriminalising or depenalising cannabis use, expanding and enhancing the medical cannabis program, and increasing the prevention and treatment services for cannabis users.
  • The inquiry does not make any clear or conclusive recommendation on the legalisation of cannabis in Australia, but identifies the gaps and challenges in the existing evidence and knowledge, and calls for more research and evaluation on the issue, and for more dialogue and debate among the stakeholders and the public.

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