Support for deregulation and decriminalisation of marijuana
A number of submissions to the inquiry were strongly critical of the
restriction of cannabis products in Australia, arguing that it was a denial of an
individual's personal choice to use the substance. Those arguing this point were
of the opinion that the legislation and regulations controlling marijuana were
disproportionate to the risks posed by the substance to users and the community
at large, and that relaxing restrictions on marijuana use would result in
positive outcomes at an individual and societal level.
Personal choice to use marijuana
Laws prohibiting recreational marijuana use were identified as an
infringement on personal liberty and the freedom to choose whether or not to
consume the substance.
Many submitters noted the connections between personal choice and the
principles of liberal democracy, ethics and morality. Mr Mark Hoffman argued
that the state should not intervene in the personal choices of a citizen
provided that the person involved was a 'responsible adult'.
Mr Hoffman emphasised the connection between individual choice and the
libertarian principles of democracy, stating that 'an individual living in
a modern, free democracy should have the choice to enjoy the use of Cannabis,
and any other substance that they choose'.
Mr Gabriel Buckley concurred with this viewpoint, arguing that the
restriction of personal choice relating to marijuana was immoral. Mr Buckley
argued, when compared with the evidence of success in jurisdictions
internationally which have decriminalised marijuana, that:
[T]here are no legitimate, moral, ethical, economic or social
grounds on which the prohibition of cannabis can be predicated. And, as such, any laws that seek to prohibit the use of
cannabis or the sale of cannabis between consenting adults are without basis.
In any society that is attempting to be a fair and equitable society, laws
without basis should simply be struck off the books.
Some submitters argued that the individual's personal choice to consume
marijuana should be permitted providing that harm was not caused to others. An
example was provided to the committee of a working father using marijuana to
relax at the end of a work week. It was argued that an individual in this
situation causes no harm to anyone else, and only affects the person consuming
the substance. If the individual's actions affect no-one but themselves, it was
claimed, it should not be a matter for the state to legislate upon.
The use of marijuana was argued to be similar to other personal choices
made by citizens which do not attract government regulation. Mr Mark Hoffman
contended that the personal choice to consume marijuana was no different from
the personal choice to belong to a particular religion, the clothes a person
wears, or the food a person consumes.
Submitters and witnesses in favour of allowing marijuana to be used
freely argued that the threat of any harms from marijuana use should not be met
with a disproportionately harsh legislative response. Dr Samuel Douglas told
the committee that the balance between the principles or harm reduction and
retaining personal choice should be the goal in policy marking, but that this
balance has been lost in relation to marijuana:
I put it to the committee that, in the case of cannabis, as a
society we have tried the approach of restricting individual choice. This
approach has failed to protect the individual from harm. This failure is not
only practical; it cuts to the core of why we make laws in the first place.
The majority of those arguing in favour of relaxing the prohibitions on
marijuana use suggested that it posed significantly less harm to users than
other drugs. It was noted that marijuana had a historical basis, having been
used by humans for thousands of years in various forms.
Mr Mark Hoffman argued that:
Cannabis is a natural product and is proven to cause much
less harm to both the user and community as a whole than Alcohol and Tobacco
products which are currently legally available to adults in Australia ... There
are virtually no adverse impacts to the community which are caused by Cannabis
users, other than the impacts which are a direct result of the illegal status
of the substance.
Other submitters agreed with Mr Hoffman that marijuana causes far less
individual and social harm than tobacco and alcohol, and that it should not be subject
to the same legal treatment as more harmful drugs such as heroin.
It was also pointed out that there have been few deaths directly attributable
According to these arguments, the substance itself poses no danger to the individual
or the community at large. Instead, the harm is caused by the disproportionate
legislative response and the resulting illegal status of the substance which
cause further harm.
Public health organisations presented counter-claims to these arguments,
which will be explored in Chapter 3.
Effects of criminalisation
Submitters commented on the effects of the current regulatory system prohibiting
recreational marijuana use, including a lack of control over marijuana
production and use, the impact on the lives of users who are subject to law
enforcement, and difficulties associated with furthering cannabinoid research.
Lack of control over marijuana
production and use
Submitters argued that the criminalisation of marijuana results in
consumers obtaining marijuana from black market sources with no assurances
regarding ingredient quality or safety. For example, Drug Policy Australia contended
that the current approach of criminalising illicit drugs and thus rejecting the
normal drug control mechanisms applicable to legal drugs 'has the effect of
ceding control of illegal drugs to the organised crime syndicates, and preventing
governments properly controlling how they are produced, distributed, marketed,
taxed and used'.
Mr Mark Hoffman commented further on the issue of quality control for
marijuana products in his submission:
Production is in the hands of criminals and clandestine
growers whose sole motivation is financial gain. They have little regard for
the health and safety of the users of their products. There are no standards
for production as there are for food and medical crops, and no guarantee that
dangerous pesticides and fungicides have not been used which may adversely
affect the health of users.
Mr Gabriel Buckley concurred, arguing that unlike alcohol drinkers,
cannabis consumers 'enjoy none of the consumer protections in place to ensure
drinkers receive a product of known quality and potency'.
Use of synthetic cannabinoids
Additionally, it was suggested that those seeking a legal alternative to
marijuana may instead opt for synthetic cannabinoid products, which may be
unsafe. A number of witnesses expressed their concern with the proliferation of
synthetic cannabinoid products and the safety risks they posed.
Mr Hoffman stated:
With regard to the synthetic cannabinoids, I think the
biggest danger is that there is absolutely no labelling as to what is contained
within these products. The formulations of the different chemicals that are
used can vary greatly, and there is absolutely no research because of the novel
aspect of these chemicals. They are brand-new research chemicals for all
intents and purposes. There is very little data as to the safety of them, and
the user does not know what they are getting themselves into by using them.
Dr Samuel Douglas argued that these products are used 'just to avoid the
potential criminal sanction of using cannabis'.
Dr Douglas contended further that while marijuana use does not directly cause
the death of users, there have been instances of deaths due to the use of
synthetic cannabinoid products which were potentially preventable if marijuana
Impact of law enforcement
activities on recreational users
The impact of criminalising marijuana use on the lives of individuals
who use the drug recreationally in the privacy of their own home was highlighted
in evidence. Mr Mark Hoffman noted that, due to approximately 10.2 per cent of
the Australian population having used the substance in the past 12 months,
there is widespread civil disobedience occurring in relation to marijuana laws.
As a result, this makes a significant proportion of the Australian population criminals
in the view of their government.
Several submitters noted that the criminalisation of marijuana use has harsh
effects on the lives of those who are prosecuted for possession or use. By possessing
or consuming marijuana, an individual may attract a penalty that can
substantially affect their employment, ability to travel and other areas of
their personal life.
If a person is charged with a cannabis offence, this can result in a criminal
record, if not jail time and a pecuniary penalty. Mr Gabriel Buckley expanded
on this point in his submission:
A criminal record for drug crimes relegates the user to a
second-class citizen in many aspects of life. Convicted cannabis users
experience difficulty gaining and/or keeping some jobs, obtaining clearance-based
qualifications such as the "Blue Card" and travelling
internationally. The stigma associated with having a criminal record can—in
itself—be a major driver behind an individual's descent into poverty or further
criminality. The war on drugs does not target criminals, it creates them.
The inconsistency between the penalties associated with marijuana
offences in different states and territories (as noted in Chapter 1) adds a
further layer of complexity in how different individuals may be treated under
the law for the same activities.
Stalling research and the uptake of
Several submitters argued that the blanket prohibition on marijuana use
has prevented it being used as a medical treatment, sometimes using their own
personal experiences with chronic pain to illustrate the point.
One submitter noted in their evidence that the legal restrictions surrounding marijuana
has significantly impacted on the ability of scientists to conduct medical
research into the substance's possible therapeutic effects, stating:
Australia has an opportunity to be a leader in the field of
cannabinoid research, clinical trials, and an export of cannabis plant and
processed cannabinoid based pharmaceuticals of the future. This has been
addressed by the "medical cannabis bill" already discussed in the
senate with the provision of medical research licences.
This position was shared by public health organisations who support medicinal
cannabis and associated research. The Public Health Association of Australia advocated
the legalisation of the drug for the purposes of medicinal research and
treatment. It argued that its position was supported by evidence from studies
and clinical experience suggesting that the substance was beneficial in
alleviating pain and countering side-effects from certain types of medicinal
The Australian Drug Foundation similarly supported the availability of
medicinal cannabis for those suffering intense pain or severe disability due to
It should be noted that the majority of submissions regarding marijuana
were submitted prior to the legislative changes regarding medicinal marijuana
that occurred in February 2016 (see Chapter 1). The arguments posed here
therefore reflect the law prior to the reforms. However, future scrutiny of the
effects of the new legislation will require consideration of the issues raised
by submitters in relation to barriers that hinder research and innovation.
Options for decriminalising or regulating marijuana
Submitters calling for legislative change regarding marijuana discussed
a range of issues, including whether marijuana should be legalised under a
system where its cultivation and supply is still regulated by government, or
instead fully legalised and decriminalised with no (or extremely limited)
regulation or restrictions.
Benefits of a regulated industry
Some submitters argued that it was critical to have a
government-regulated industry when decriminalising marijuana. Mr Mark Hoffman
suggested that production and sale of cannabis should be licenced and
regulated, resulting in a safer product. He suggested a system of licencing for
producers and retailers, with product standards applied similarly to the food
Professor Wayne Hall agreed with this view, calling for a regulatory regime akin
to the tobacco industry which would take into consideration the risks
associated with the product. In this scenario, Professor Hall argued:
We should tax the product to deter heavy use, we should put
bans on advertising and the promotion of use, and we should have reasonable
restrictions on availability so that it is not too accessible to people under
Professor Hall also noted that further regulations on product packaging
would be required, displaying THC content and health warnings.
These measures would ensure that users would maintain their independence in
choosing to use marijuana while ensuring that accurate information and warnings
regarding excessive use were in place.
Some submitters argued that creating a regulated industry would reduce
harm to users and the community caused by other harmful substances. Mr Timothy
Nixon emphasised that by promoting the safe production and sale of marijuana,
it would reduce the market share of the tobacco and alcohol industries, which
he argued were more harmful in terms of illness and death caused.
Eliminating the role of organised
Mr Mark Hoffman noted that a consequence of decriminalisation would be
that those choosing to use marijuana would be able to do so 'without fearing
prosecution and the implications associated, and could purchase from safe
premises without being exposed to violent criminals or without fear of being
This would also reduce the negative impacts of criminalisation, such as the
impact of a criminal record on users' lives, reduce the demand on the law
enforcement and justice system, and reduce the ability of criminal
organisations to proliferate in the drug industry.
Potential for tax revenue from
sales of marijuana products
Some submitters and witnesses argued that a regulated industry would
also provide benefits to the community at large in the form of revenue
generated by the application of the goods and services tax (GST) or other
specific taxes to sales of marijuana.
This argument is supported by modelling conducted by the Parliamentary
Budget Office (PBO), which suggests that the application of the GST on
legalised marijuana would lead to $259 million generated per annum.
The PBO included in its calculations that $104 million per annum would be saved
due to reduced demand for law enforcement from the Australian Federal Police
and the Australian Border Force in relation to policing marijuana offences.
The PBO, however, noted that these figures were of 'low reliability', and that
the uncertainty of price and quantity of consumption (currently and in an
environment where marijuana was legal) cast doubt on their analysis.
Additionally, the analysis was conduct on the basis of marijuana being fully
legalised as opposed to decriminalised and regulated, and thus does not provide
modelling on partial deregulation.
Arguments in favour of fully
Unlike those who conceded a need for government regulation, some
submitters to the inquiry called for the total decriminalisation of the drug
barring some exceptions. Mr Gabriel Buckley argued that any restrictions on
marijuana would be tantamount to a state overreach into the personal choices of
those wishing to use the substance, with the exception of children.
Mr Buckley argued that creating a regulated industry for marijuana would still
cause harm to the individual and in the community due to restrictions still
remaining on cultivation, possession and use:
The whole idea of setting up these schemes, labels and warnings—the
idea that we somehow need to curtail grown adults from taking responsibility
into their own hands and making decisions about which drugs they would like to
consume smacks, to me, of the old puritan fear that somewhere someone out there
might be having a good time.
International examples of marijuana
decriminalisation and regulation
Many submitters pointed to overseas examples of marijuana deregulation
as models that could potentially be adopted in an Australian context. The
Public Health Association of Australia suggested that Australia could adopt a
similar system to the Portuguese model, which focusses on regulation of the
substance rather than criminalisation.
It also suggested that the ability to regulate marijuana would assist in
reducing usage, incorporating a regulatory system similar to what is currently
used for tobacco.
Mr Seppy Pour noted the example of the State of Colorado in the United
States of America, which has successfully regulated the substance. He highlighted
that the state collected an additional US$53 million in tax revenue in the
first year since legalising recreational marijuana, not including the savings
made by the state in not investigating and prosecuting offenders for
Other models suggested included the Spanish system of regulation, which
allows 'clubs' to be established for the cultivation and distribution of
marijuana amongst paying members.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page