When you think of countries similar to Australia, four countries probably stand out from the rest. The US, UK, Canada and New Zealand are very similar in a lot of ways. They all predominantly speak English as their first language, most of their citizens enjoy a high standard of living, and their cultures are often comparable.
Although Australia is filled with desert, and Canada filled with ice, all five countries share a lot of similarities. Is cannabis one of these similarities however?
Following worldwide trends
Out of the 193 countries in the world (give or take depending on who you ask), only two countries have recreational cannabis legally available to purchase; Uruguay and Canada.
This number jumps to three when including countries that have successfully passed laws to follow this. Luxembourg recently became the third country to pass these laws at a federal level. This number jumps up again when you consider various relaxed interpretations of the laws, such as in Spain, Netherlands and South Africa.
Although not quite there yet at a federal level, The United States is currently seeing individual states legalize at a record breaking rate. Almost a third of the population lives in states where recreational cannabis is now (or will be) legally accessible. This third still dwarfs the populations of both Canada and Uruguay combined.
New Zealand is set to hold a referendum on whether cannabis should be legalized for personal use at the November 2020 election. Although previous opinion polls looked like it would result in legalization, recent polls are showing drops in support. There’s still over a year away however so anything could happen yet.
In the UK, with so much going on regarding Brexit, it’s not surprising there hasn’t been much mention of cannabis in parliament lately. Luxembourg announcing their plans for legalization will likely see an effect on other countries.
Although small in size and population, Luxembourg has a geographical advantage in Europe. It is neighbours with Belgium, home of the European Union parliament, and also neighbours France and Germany, two of the largest economies in Europe.
Comparing to Australia
Of the four countries most similar to Australia, two are home to recreational cannabis in some form and one has an upcoming referendum on the matter. Luxembourg will be the first country to have fully regulated legal cannabis in Europe. (It is just tolerated in the Netherlands, however regulation is happening now though.)
Australia currently sits right in the middle, below Canada and the United States, but above New Zealand and the United Kingdom when it comes to general stance on cannabis.
The Australian Capital Territory, home to Australia’s capital city Canberra, just legalized recreational cannabis for personal use. These law changes come into effect in January 2020, and would allow individuals to use cannabis in private spaces, and also grow up to two plants. Labor and The Greens, who make up the majority of the legislative assembly, are in support of this. There are still a lot of legal hurdles to overcome before January 2020, however currently it’s looking promising.
The rest of Australia
The above is great news for residents of the ACT, but what about the rest of Australia? The ACT only accounts for around 1.5% of Australia’s population.
Currently cannabis is decriminalized in the Northern Territory and South Australia. This accounts for roughly 9% of the Australian population. The other 91% of the population live in states with varying degrees of punishment for use and possession. None are that strict when compared to Saudi Arabia, however are still quite strict when compared to Canada or California.
Do any of these states have similar political support for legalization as the ACT? Not really, but support is slowly growing. Canberra legalising recreational cannabis has set the wheels in motion for the other States and Territories. Canberra legalizing could do to Australia what Colorado and Washington did to the US back in 2012.
The future for Australia and cannabis
Probably not the answer you want to read, but, it’s hard to say. One point of certainty is that cannabis reform is not going anywhere. Should current proposals not pass, this will simply delay the process, not stop it.
Taking a guess, we’d say Australia will see legal recreational weed federally within the next 2 – 5 years. That still sounds like a long time to wait, but when you think about the war on drugs as a whole, the light is starting to shine at the end of the tunnel.