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Marijuana Legalization in Australia:
Like many other countries and states have been doing, Australia has been going through a long process of acceptance of cannabis, then prohibition, and finally it is slowly coming back and edging towards full legalization. At the moment, marijuana is classified as a “schedule 9” drug, which is the same category as more “serious” drugs such as heroin or LSD. But was it always this way? Or did it start out more acceptable and then someone down the line decided it was dangerous enough to be worth their suspicion? Let’s take a look at the history of marijuana in Australia.
The early days
Marijuana used to be quite popular in the country of Australia. Hemp was grown for hundreds of years and was even officially supported by the government at the time as well. The dates aren’t exactly known, but until the late 1800s, it was enjoyed by just about everybody, and for a variety of purposes. It initially arrived in Australia with the First Fleet, a British colonial fleet that founded the first colonies on Australia. Its purpose was clear: produce it commercially.
It was widely accepted as a form of medicine, but it was also used in certain circles recreationally. There was even a famous author, Marcus Clarke, who wrote a short story called Cannabis Indica, allegedly when he was high from smoking marijuana. Indeed, he actually was trying out marijuana as a writing aid in general. These were different times than the present day, of course.
Up until the late 1800s you could find and purchase marijuana cigarettes without any trouble, and plenty of people did. They were often used for instant relief of issues with breathing, coughing, allergies, or the flu. Despite all these potential uses for the herb, most people who smoked marijuana were actually using it recreationally rather than medically.
The 1920s through the 1960s
The 1920s is what changed it all. First came the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs, which Australia signed. This classified marijuana as only to be used for medical and scientific purposes. Because Australians didn’t generally use marijuana for these things and mostly used it for recreation, this was highly restrictive for them. It put marijuana officially in the same category as heroin, cocaine, and morphine — a classification that still exists in some way today.
As parts of Australia began to put into place laws that were in line with this Geneva Convention, things slowly started to get stricter and stricter. By 1928 Victoria started a prohibition on marijuana, and the rest of the states followed between 1928 and 1958. Eventually, public perception of marijuana shifted along with the changing laws. In fact, the term “marijuana” wasn’t even used until 1938, which carried a heavily negative connotation. Even so, people knew better overall and didn’t cease using marijuana.
Marijuana use started increasing in the 1960s (along with other drugs), and the states of Australia began taking a harder stance. Hemp plants were even hunted down, removed, and destroyed. By the mid-1970s Australia was waging war on drugs. Nonetheless, illicit drug use in general increased.
The 1970s through today
Decriminalization became a topic in Australia towards the late 1970s. Even so, raids were common, and law enforcement was cracking down more and more. By the 1990s, however, the task force which was supposed to enforce the laws on marijuana prohibition began to come to the realization that the ban itself was causing more problems than marijuana alone. In the meantime, the use of marijuana was increasing steadily.
Nowadays, there are more hydroponic grow operations than ever, as people are moving away from an outdoor setup to an indoor grow. Interest in and use of marijuana is continuing to increase fairly quickly. These days there is even an increasing interest in hemp, which doesn’t get you high if you smoke it. Even so, recreational marijuana has yet to be legalized in the country — but the people are more than ready for it. Some of the states have effectively decriminalized the possession or cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, meaning they get small fines or treatment rather than a criminal charge and record.
Medical marijuana in Australia
While possessing or growing marijuana without authorization is not legal in any part of Australia, there is currently a medical marijuana program in place that was enacted relatively recently. It built upon the Narcotics Drugs Act of 1967 and basically decriminalized medical marijuana. This enabled it to be legal from a federal standpoint, but each state enacted its own rules and specifics from there.
As it stands currently, there are some very different laws in each state throughout Australia. Victoria allows children with epilepsy to use medical marijuana, for example, while Queensland permits the prescription of medical marijuana to people suffering from a whole range of ailments. Until it becomes legalized nationwide, it’ll probably remain very different from state to state.
Just like other countries, Australia has some interesting marijuana laws. The hope is that someday, marijuana can be entirely legal, so it can once again be enjoyed by all.