Will Australia Legalise Cannabis?

A new survey has revealed that 20% of Aussies prefer cannabis over tobacco, and 41% want it legalised. So what's holding the country back from taking the next step?

The National Drug Survey has revealed that there are a whopping nine million drug users in Australia, which equates to nearly half the population aged 14 and over (43%).

Conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the results from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) revealed that 2019 was the first time more people supported the legalization of cannabis than opposed it (41% compared with 37%).

Doubling since 2007 (21%), public opinion toward cannabis has positively taken off, while other illicit drugs – heroin, ecstasy, meth – remain below 10%. Although a recorded increase in support for cocaine and ecstasy was considered "statistically significant."

The NDSHS measured the support of drug-use by asking a set of questions, such as:

  1. When people talk about "a drug problem", which is the first drug you think of?
  2. Which ONE of these drugs do you think directly or indirectly causes the most deaths in Australia?
  3. Which ONE of these forms of drug use do you think is the most serious concern for the general community?

Respondents were also asked to mark their personal approval or disapproval of drug use. As a result, for the first time ever, cannabis has a higher approval rating for regular use than tobacco (19.6% compared with 15.4%), with even more people perceiving tobacco to cause more deaths than cannabis (18.7% compared with 0.9%). Of course, now is always the best time to state that there have been no recorded deaths attributed to cannabis use. Ever.

Cannabis was the only illicit drug to be given its own questions, with A6 asking: "Do you think the possession of small quantities of Marijuana/Cannabis for personal use should be a criminal offence, that is, should offenders get a criminal record?" Over half (54%) supported 'a caution/ warning or no action' compared to 24% who supported 'referral'. Both ecstasy and hallucinogens also saw an increase in support for cautionary and discretionary action by law enforcement.

Compared with last year's single-source survey from Roy Morgan, it's clear that "a growing number of Australians want marijuana legalised". The report, which saw 42% of Australians support legalisation (up 9% points in just four years), suggests that "proponents of marijuana legalisation are young, socially aware and progressive," while those against are "older and with more traditional views".

Strangely enough, however, the age group which saw the most significant increase in cannabis use in the NDHS was among older people. Recent use among those aged 50–59 and 60 and over is at its highest level since 2001. These age groups also included the most regular users, with almost half using cannabis once a week or more.

Levels of support and opposition for the legalisation of cannabis, people aged 14 and over, 2004-2019 (per cent)
cannabis use has increased among older people

To determine regular use, question A7 asked: If Marijuana/Cannabis were legal to use, would you:

  • Not use it, even if it were legal and available
  • Try it
  • Use it about as often as you do now
  • Use it more often than you do now
  • Use it less often than you do now
  • Don't know

While 4 out of 5 Australians claimed they would still not use cannabis recreationally even if it was legal, there is still 9.5% of the population wanting to try the drug, with 2.9% wanting to use it more often than they already are.

With Australia's legal cannabis market set to bloom to US$1.55 billion by 2024, according to a report by market research consultancy Prohibition Partners, and COVID-19 sucking the life out of the economy, now is the time to pull the trigger on this miracle plant.

Fortunately, our trailblazing capital – the ACT – is already on its way, with adults allowed to possess 50 grams of cannabis and grow 2 cannabis plants since 31 January 2020. While decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation, it certainly sets the tone for the future of legal, recreational cannabis in Australia.

Australians will also bear witness to a historic vote in New Zealand, which will undoubtedly spark conversations about the potential for cannabis legalisation down under.

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Elliot Nash
Elliot Nash

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