The Australian government may repeal the ACT's cannabis legalisation bill
The ACT legislature have voted in favour of legalising cannabis for personal use. Unfortunately the Federal Government might be about to spoil the party.
By Hugo Gray
Australia's cannabis legalisation movement might be about to suffer a serious blow, after the Federal Government announced that it is considering overriding the ACT government's recent decision to legalise the drug for personal use from January 31, 2020.
While the initial legislation was passed by ACT Legislative Assembly without significant opposition, the Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has said that he may reject the changes, and is currently waiting to review the final version of the bill.
Meanwhile, the Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, has claimed that legalising cannabis is "dangerous and medically irresponsible". Hunt's opinion is based in part on a three-page briefing document—complied by his department—which suggests that there may be a link between cannabis use and the development of psychological disorders such as schizophrenia.
According to the Weekend Australian—who have access to the document—the three-page briefing relies on research from Colorado, Canada and Australia, which argues that daily cannabis use is associated with the development of a psychotic disorder.
"Adverse health outcomes as a result of regular cannabis use are not limited to mental health and psychotic symptoms," the report claims.
However, while studies may have identified a correlation between cannabis and mental illness, medical researchers have yet to determine whether there is a direct causation involved.
In fact, the lack of research surrounding cannabis—as the plant remains illegal in much of the world—means that scientists are still unsure how the drug affects the brain.
Even in countries and states that have legalised recreational cannabis, researchers are still held back by regulatory red tape if they wish to study the plant's effects. As a result, much of the research surrounding cannabis is often highly contradictory and limited in scope.
And while cigarettes remain legal, no evidence has been uncovered linking cannabis use inflammation of the arteries or cancers of the lung, head or neck.
Similarly, the Department of Health has also pointed to claims that smoking cannabis can lead to negative pregnancy outcomes, as well as impacting your memory, physical co-ordination and thinking abilities.
But, to suggest this is a legitimate argument for banning cannabis is a highly spurious justification, as alcohol—which also impacts memory, co-ordination and cognitive function, while also potentially causing cirrhosis of the liver and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome—remains legal and widely available.
According to the leader of the Australian Greens Party, Richard Di Natale, the purpose of the ACT's bill is not to enable heavier cannabis usage, but rather to take power away from the black market, while also using the tax revenue generated to promote further education and treatment for individuals suffering from substance abuse issues.
"Nearly seven million Australians choose to use cannabis," Di Natale said.
"They're sourcing products of unknown quality and purity, and of course all they're doing is feeding the mega profits of criminal syndicates and criminal gangs."
These sentiments were echoed by a spokeswoman for the ACT, who confirmed that the state government had consulted with multiple health experts on the potential impact of cannabis legalisation.
She also rejected the claims made by the Department of Health that cannabis use can lead to an increase—based on statistics from the US—in violent behaviour, hospitalisations and driving under the influence.
"It does not allow for the sale of cannabis or large-scale commercialisation and development as has been seen elsewhere, particularly in the US," she said.
Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry. Originally published on The Green Fund.
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