As governments around the globe discuss easing COVID-19 restrictions, Australian leaders should seize the opportunity to positively shape a brave new world.
There is a massive industry waiting to be introduced that would boost the economy, create a huge amount of jobs and business opportunities, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax that could be pumped into making our healthcare system stronger. It just needs the green light.
The legalised and regulated sale of cannabis – medicinal and recreational – could provide the kind of boost to the economy that we need right now and in years to come.
Thanks to novel coronavirus, more than 1.3 million Australians are on Jobseeker; unemployment is expected to average 7.6 per cent this year (and rise to 8.9 in 2021), and the national economy is expected to shrink 6.7 per cent during the same period.
The debt and impact of COVID-19 will be felt for generations.
Surely, if there is evidence a new industry could create jobs and business opportunities – including retail and cultivation that could help struggling farmers and regional areas – boost the economy, and generate millions in tax revenue, we should be seriously considering it.
As it happens, the Victorian Government has already extensively researched this.
The Inquiry into Drug Law Reform’s March 2018 report came after politicians travelled the world seeing how different approaches to drug policy worked and explored potential economic and health benefits of alternative methods.
The report concluded that regulated cannabis for adult use was “an area of drug law reform worthy of exploration”, while admitting it was “one of the less harmful substances, even compared with alcohol and tobacco”.
The report also noted the economic burden of illicit substances, stating: “A rough estimate would show that cannabis possession cost the Victorian government $5.12 million in court costs in 2016 alone”.
That’s not to mention the cost and use of police resources. Add to that potential incarceration, and the price tag continues to rise.
Some progress has been made. According to new reports last week, the TGA has opened a public consultation on a potential change and will consider legalising the sale of medicinal cannabis from chemists without a prescription. The Australian Medical Association, however, told News Corp it will strongly oppose the move, arguing there is not enough evidence.
In the US, 33 states have legalised the medicinal use of cannabis products in recent years, while 11 have also legalised recreational use for adults over 21. And according to Forbes, in 2018 alone, Washington collected roughly AU $497 million; California $467 million, and Colorado $414 million in tax revenue from sales.
Cannabis also became legal in Canada in October 2018, a few months after the Victorian report was released. In taxing the products similarly to alcohol, tobacco and fuel, Canada made AU $205.5 million in the first five and a half months.
According to a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy released last week, the war on drugs has monumentally failed, costing global law enforcement agencies more than $155 billion each year.
“This is the reality of the world we live in, where a market with a steady demand is left in the hands of criminal interests,” the report states.
As in other nations around the world, economic booms from legalisation could be invested into drug education programs and, importantly in a post-COVID-19 world, in our healthcare system overall.
The plant’s therapeutic benefits are also largely going to waste.
The powerful story of army veteran David Hill and his father Max, a former drug cop, was national news on ANZAC Day and struck a chord with many.
Tragically, they’d been forced into the black market to treat David’s PTSD, which had improved incredibly through the use of cannabis.
Surely, if a former police officer who dedicated their career to trying to eliminate illicit drugs has been converted to the medicinal benefits of cannabis, we should be listening.
Singer Olivia Newton-John is also an advocate, claiming it helped dramatically during her battle against breast cancer.
So why are we still denying people access?
Last month, treasurer Josh Frydenberg said there was no room for ideology when dealing with a crisis like COVID-19. And he’s right, but this is exactly how health should be treated generally.
We’re all yearning to go back out into the world again, but if we think about it and commit to considering new avenues, we could actually build a better one.
So let’s do it.
Originally published as Could cannabis be the economic high Australia needs?