SHOULD the recreational use of cannabis be legalised in Australia, the market would be worth more an estimated $5 billion annually.
That’s the finding of in-depth analysis by the global firm New Frontier Data, which looked at current illicit usage rates and comparable global regulated industries to model what a possible future legal marijuana market would look like.
Cannabis is the most widely used drug in the country, with 12 per cent of people reporting having used it in the past year.
At the moment, the black market is worth at least $4.5 billion a year – all of which goes into the pockets of criminals and organised gangs, the Oceania Cannabis Report found.
There has been a growing movement calling for recreational cannabis use to be decriminalised, on the back of several American states and Canada.
If Australia followed suit, the total market – combining recreational and medicinal use – would be worth $5.5 billion annually.
After successful lobbying, medicinal marijuana has become legal for certain sufferers of chronic illness and disease.
However, the high cost, low availability and strict regulations mean take-up has been lacklustre, the New Frontier Data report said.
“As of September 2018, there were just over 1000 medical cannabis patients registered in
Australia, which is a significantly lower patient participation rate than commonly seen in other
legal medical cannabis markets.”
Based on its data set, the report estimates that the medical cannabis patient population in Australia could hit 330,000 by 2050.
The cost of medicinal cannabis has dropped by 50 per cent in the past year, but approved Australian patients still pay almost a quarter above what illegal marijuana costs.
More suppliers are needed to bring down prices, but strict regulation has seen market growth slow.
The latest government research on community attitudes to cannabis found many people are more progressive in their views than the current laws reflect.
According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 84 per cent of Australians are in favour of legislation allowing the use of medicinal cannabis.
However, there is far less support for sanctioned recreational use of the drug, with 35 per cent of people in favour of change.
Support is more widespread among young people, with half of people aged 18 to 39 comfortable with regulating and taxing cannabis, but older Aussies are staunchly opposed.
But regardless, 73 per cent of people don’t support cannabis possession being a crime.
Currently, being caught with cannabis in Australia is a crime, but several states consider possessing a very small amount for personal use to be illegal but not a criminal offence.
The vast majority of police activity in regards to drugs is for cannabis offences, and nine-in-10 arrests are of users rather than growers, distributors and dealers.
Opponents of decriminalising recreational use fear it will encourage greater use of the drug, particularly among younger people.
However, Nicole Lee from Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute wrote in The Conversation that there is no evidence to support that fear.
A number of studies have shown there are health ramifications associated with significant regular use, including a doubling of the risk of psychotic symptoms in extreme cases.
It can cause anxiety and depression and according to drug reform organisation The Ted Noffs Foundation, it can be addictive.
Teenagers who use cannabis tend to have poorer educational outcomes, driving while under the influence of cannabis almost doubles the risk of accidents and women who smoke while pregnant can damage their baby’s health.
At the end of the day, using cannabis has an inebriating effect, which has a range of consequences on its own.
Proponents of legalising recreational cannabis use argue the benefits are many, including reducing harm by regulating the drug and its production, ensuring a consistency in potency.
It could also result in less risky behaviours when the threat of criminal prosecution is removed.
Matt Noffs said prohibition usually causes more damage and the smarter option was to take control of the health and safety risks with strong regulation.
A recent study found that recreational drug use has become much more mainstream in Australia, especially when it comes to cannabis.
But the issue of legalising recreational cannabis use was raised in Australia recently, after Canada’s move to completely decriminalise it.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked if he would follow suit and his response was a resounding no.