The Australian Greens proposal decriminalise cannabis, has been rejected by the federal government.
The Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the country’s approach to illicit drugs was an “unmitigated disaster” and it was time for real reform.
“Governments around the world are realising that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents,” Senator Di Natale said on Monday.
“It’s time Australia joined them and legalised cannabis for adult use.”
The minor party wants to redefine cannabis as a legal substance, with licences issued for its production and sale.
A national agency would be established to issue licences, monitor and enforce conditions and oversee regulations.
Up to six plants could be grown for personal use and strict penalties would be imposed on selling cannabis to minors or without a licence.
Senator Di Natale said almost seven million Australians had tried or used cannabis, with consumption and drug possession-related arrests both on the rise.
The Greens leader, a former drug and alcohol doctor, said Australia’s tough approach to drugs had caused enormous harm.
“It drives people away from getting help when they need it and exposes them to a dangerous black market,” Senator Di Natale said.
“The Greens see drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue.
“Our plan to create a legal market for cannabis production and sale will reduce the risks, bust the business model of criminal dealers and syndicates and protect young people from unfair criminal prosecutions.”
But Health Minister Greg Hunt called on the party to withdraw its suggestion, arguing it risks the health of Australians.
“Marijuana is a gateway drug. The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented,” the minister told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.
“We do not believe it is safe, responsible or something which should be allowed.”
Asked why the government wouldn’t want the tax revenue, Mr Hunt said it didn’t want to put the mental health of Australians at risk.
Labor says medical drug reform comes first
Labor has no plans to legalise recreational cannabis, with leader Bill Shorten saying the party wanted to focus on removing regulatory road blocks for medicinal use.
He said the Greens had rehashed an existing policy, which was the equivalent of “political click-bait”.
“I’m sure as the Greens political party know, much of the responsibility for this issue lies at state and territory levels,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Cairns.
The Greens leader is a former drug and alcohol doctor and pointed to a recent poll showing 55 per cent of Australians believed cannabis should be regulated and taxed like alcohol or tobacco.
Senator Di Natale expects the plan to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, helping fund treatment, education and other harm-reduction programs.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm said his party had long-held the position of legalising marijuana, criticising the 80,000 cannabis-related arrests each year.
“This is an appalling waste of Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force resources to the tune of almost $100 million a year,” he said, citing Parliamentary Budget Office costings commissioned by his party.
Crossbench senator Derryn Hinch also backed the Greens’ push, saying “you’d ban alcohol and cigarettes” too if the argument was that it’s bad for you.
The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation welcomed the announcement.
“Banning cannabis hasn’t reduced its use or availability, yet it has distracted police from following up more serious crimes, harmed a lot of young people and helped make some criminals rich,” president Alex Wodak said.
Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, welcomed the announcement.
“Banning cannabis hasn’t reduced its use or availability yet it has distracted police from following up more serious crimes, harmed a lot of young people and helped make some criminals rich,” Dr Wodak said.
“Regulating cannabis will give government more control and increase government revenue, which can be used to fund drug prevention and treatment.”