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Australian Residents Could Save $850 Million Annually if Cannabis is Decriminalized

According to a new Penington Institute report, it’s time to give cannabis legalization benefits a closer look. “Penington Institute is known for producing Australia’s Annual Overdose Report, the authoritative study on overdose in Australia. With Cannabis in Australia 2022, we aim to fill the gap for accurate, up-to-date data on Australian trends, attitudes, and approaches relating to cannabis,” researchers wrote.

The study’s foreword was written by Penington Institute CEO John Ryan, who explains a few of the problems related to the current state of cannabis today. “The Australian community’s perspective continues to evolve but is sometimes undermined by a lack of access to evidence, misunderstanding and even misinformation,” said Ryan. “Penington Institute is committed to improving the management of drugs through community engagement and knowledge sharing and so I am pleased to share with you Penington Institute’s latest report, Cannabis in Australia 2022. Our inaugural report on cannabis presents the findings from many months of research and around 100 expert interviews, which we have condensed into a concise overview of cannabis use in Australia today.”

This report details the cost of cracking down on marijuana consumption and possession. “In 2015-16, more than $1.7 billion was spent on enforcement, including: $1.1 billion on imprisonment, $475 million on police, $62 million on courts, $52 million on legal aid and prosecution, and $25 million on community corrections.” If cannabis were decriminalized, the report projects that it could save taxpayers up to $850 million annually. It could save more than $1.2 million per year if it was legalized.

As in other countries, Australia’s cannabis arrest rates are very high. There have been approximately 702,866 marijuana-related arrests since 2010-2011. Approximately 90% of these charges are related to possession or personal consumption. A decade later, data spanning from 2019 to 2020 shows that approximately 46.1 percent of drug arrests were related to cannabis.

However, Australians are not afraid to consume cannabis. “More than a third of Australians aged over 14 have used cannabis at least once—37%, or 7.6 million people. Around 2.4 million Australians used cannabis in 2019, as did 200 million people worldwide,” the report states. 

Recently, Australian residents were surveyed about cannabis’ criminal status. In 2010, 66% of people believed that cannabis possession shouldn’t be grounds for a criminal charge. The number of people who believed cannabis possession shouldn’t be a criminal offense grew to 67% by 2013, 73% in 2016 and 77.9% by 2019.

Australia has made recreational marijuana illegal. The Australian Capital Territory, however, introduced new laws in 2020 to regulate personal cannabis use. In October, small quantities of marijuana were made legal in the Territory. 

Meanwhile, Australia’s medical cannabis program continues to grow. “Australia’s medicinal cannabis market is rapidly expanding, with revenue in 2021 estimated at $230 million—up from just $30 million in 2019,” the report adds. “Around 40 companies involved in the medicinal cannabis market are listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX); the 20 largest have a combined market capitalization of more than $2 billion.”

Ryan concluded that lawmakers should address some of these critical points. “At the forefront of discussion should be the questions of how to improve medicinal access for those who need it and how we can better reduce the harm caused by our laws and the substance itself as we progress toward a more informed and compassionate community,” Ryan said.