Australian Senate rejects bill to legalise recreational cannabis

National proposal shelved as pharma experts argue it would 'create more problems' than it would help.

Australian Senate rejects bill to legalise recreational cannabis
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A proposal to legalise recreational cannabis use in Australia has been rejected with concerns about potential increases in youth drug consumption cited.

On Friday, a Senate committee dismissed a bill introduced by Greens senator David Shoebridge, which aimed to permit personal cannabis possession and establish a national regulatory body for its cultivation.

After reviewing over 200 submissions, the committee cited evidence from medical organisations, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA), cautioning that broader access could heighten health risks, especially for adolescents.

"Ultimately, the committee is concerned that the legalisation of cannabis for adult recreational use would create as many, if not more, problems than the bill is attempting to resolve," stated the report.

"While endeavouring to do so, the bill does not address several significant concerns, for example, ensuring that children and young people cannot access cannabis (particularly home-grow), managing risky cannabis use, and effective oversight of THC content."

The report highlighted that most submissions agreed cannabis use "should be treated first and foremost as a health issue instead of a criminal issue."

Cannabis remains Australia's most commonly used illicit drug, with over 2.5 million recent users according to the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

In 2019, approximately 11.7% of individuals aged 14 and older reported using the drug in the past year, with higher rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth at 16%.

The Greens' proposal would have allowed adults to legally grow six cannabis plants, while prohibiting sales to minors. It also suggested licensed 'cannabis cafes' similar to those in Amsterdam.

In a dissenting report, Senator Shoebridge argued that a national cannabis market could create thousands of jobs and remove "billions" from the black market. He criticised the committee's findings, stating:

"This inquiry shows clearly how evidence-based and human-centred reforms like this, we will need to break the stranglehold of politics as usual."

Despite the setback, Shoebridge plans to reintroduce the bill to parliament this year, noting that the majority report, while comprehensive, did not fully capture the widespread public support for legalising cannabis.

Medical cannabis was legalised in Australia in 2016, and last year, about 700,000 people reported using it for medical purposes. Penalties for illicit use vary across states, with differing approaches to enforcement and diversion programs.

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  • By Avi Yemini

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