The decision to ban cannabis was an accident of history.
There was no careful root and branch review of the evidence. Instead, Australia was represented at a League of Nations meeting in Geneva in 1925 where delegates from several countries decried the dangers of cannabis. As Robert Kendell outlines in his book Cannabis Condemned:
“A claim by the Egyptian delegation that [cannabis] was as dangerous as opium, and should therefore be subject to the same international controls, was supported by several other countries. No formal evidence was produced and conference delegates had not been briefed about cannabis.”
Accordingly, the Commonwealth wrote to the states after the meeting instructing them to prohibit cannabis.
This is the quicksand upon which the mighty edifice of cannabis prohibition in Australia was constructed.
Once enacted, repeal — or even a careful review — of benefits and costs of cannabis prohibition became increasingly difficult.
Pot convictions have ‘adverse social consequences’
Cannabis arrests have accounted for the largest proportion of illicit drug arrests in Australia. In 2015-16, of the two million Australians who use cannabis every year there were almost 80,000 cannabis arrests, a 6 per cent increase from the previous year.
Of these arrests, the overwhelming majority (90 per cent) were consumers while the remainder (10 per cent) were providers. Yet in 2017, 92 per cent of drug users reported in a national survey that obtaining hydroponic cannabis was “easy” or “very easy” while 75 per cent reported obtaining bush cannabis was “easy” or “very easy”.
In the 1980s, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs, South Australia adopted a Cannabis Expiation Notice (CEN) scheme while Western Australia retained a harsher approach:
“A comparative study of minor marijuana offenders in South Australia and Western Australia concluded that the more punitive prohibition