Although not advocating a US-style commercial market approach, Penington Institute believes Australia is well-placed to learn from the US context and other models and strategies in overseas jurisdictions.
Australia can draw on these emerging reform experiences to design our own model, which we believe should be based on the following recommendations:
It’s time Australia confronts one of its greatest drug policy failures.
Declaring cannabis illegal has not stopped widespread use, increasing potency, lucrative criminal involvement in cultivation and distribution, and costly law enforcement which is stranded in a legal limbo where criminal penalties are often inconsistently applied.
It’s unacceptable that prohibition is funnelling billions of dollars every year into criminal networks, while costing taxpayers at least $1.7 billion a year in law enforcement.
It’s not good enough that thousands of Australians have been convicted and criminalised for their cannabis use.
It’s bad policy that compounds the disadvantage faced by marginalised groups and unnecessarily burdens our prison system.
And it’s deeply concerning that current punitive laws continue to hold us back from frank and frequent public discussions with young and vulnerable people about the risks of this drug.
Continuing on our current path means ignoring the compelling evidence of harm all around us.
But there is a real opportunity to do better.
Penington Institute believes that Australians can design a model of cannabis regulation responsive to our community’s needs and concerns.
Adopting a public health model of regulation does not mean dismissing the risks of cannabis or opening the floodgates to users. Instead, regulation gives us powerful levers to control access, product safety and distribution – currently in the hands of an out-of-control black market – for the protection of our entire community.
Persisting with business as usual, in the face of widespread cannabis use and prohibition’s flaws, is irresponsible.
As a community we must move beyond the panic and myths around this drug and use evidence-based solutions from Australia and other jurisdictions to build a truly effective harm-minimisation approach.
Achieving this reform won’t be achieved by a simple act of legislation. It will require intensive and rational community collaboration driven by robust, evidence-based leadership.
We know that Australians are up to the challenge – and the prize will be a healthier and safer community for us all.