Reason health experts reject weed push

Greens Senator David Shoebridge said legalising cannabis would bring in $28bn in tax revenue in the first decade. Picture: Martin Ollman/NCA NewsWire.

A push to legalise recreational cannabis use in Australia has been opposed by the country’s peak medical body, which argues it will send the wrong message about potential social and health-related harms.

In its submission to the Greens’ Legalising Cannabis Bill, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said legalising recreational use would increase adverse health impacts and place further demand on the healthcare system. It cited concerns about increased availability to young people despite the Bill intending to restrict the sale of cannabis products to people over the age of 18.

“The AMA believes that if cannabis was legalised for recreational purposes, it would indicate to the public that cannabis use is not harmful,” the submission reads.

“Allowing people to grow up to six plants in their home may normalise frequent cannabis use and will make large quantities of cannabis even more accessible to young people.”

Cannabis is one of the most commonly used illicit drugs in Australia. Picture: Chris Kidd

Greens senator David Shoebridge put forward his long-awaited legislation to decriminalise and regulate cannabis across Australia in August. The Bill hopes to establish a national cannabis licensing scheme and regulator that would oversee the commercial growing and selling of certain strains.

Under the Greens’ plan, adults could legally grow six plants in Australia, but it would remain a crime to sell pot to anyone underage, such as teenagers. It also proposed the establishment of licensed Amsterdam-style “cannabis cafes” to sell cannabis products such as brownies.

In its submission, the AMA said cannabis use should be better regulated and “treated first and foremost as a health issue instead of a criminal issue”.

“When cannabis users come into contact with the police or courts, the opportunity should be taken to divert those users to preventive, educational and therapeutic options that they would not otherwise access,” the AMA said.

Senator David Shoebridge said thousands of Australians support legalising recreational use. Picture: Cath Piltz.
Senator David Shoebridge said thousands of Australians support legalising recreational use. Picture: Cath Piltz.

In 2019, 36 per cent of Australians aged 14 and over had used cannabis in their lifetime, with 11.6 per cent using cannabis in the last 12 months.

A Parliamentary Budget Office report commissioned by the Greens revealed in January that legalising cannabis for adults could generate $28bn in taxes. According to Senator Shoebridge, the money generated could be used to raise the rate of JobSeeker and the Youth Allowance by $80 a fortnight.

Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute said in its submission to the Bill the plan was “well intended and consistent with the developing research evidence on the impact of cannabis legalisation schemes” but raised concerns about the registration of cannabis strains.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners aid while there was evidence cannabis played a role in treating health conditions, legalising recreational use could exacerbate adverse public health impacts such as mental health issues.

The ACT has allowed adults to possess up to 50g of dried or 150g of fresh cannabis since 2020. It has also been legal for people to grow two plants per person and smoke it at home for personal use.

Medicinal cannabis was legalised in Australia in 2016.