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

A new report from the Penington Institute sheds light on the benefits of weed legalization in a breakdown that explains the costs of controlling cannabis.
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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.”

The report explains the amount of money that it costs to crackdown on 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. If it were legalized, it could potentially save residents more than $1.2 billion per year.

Similar to other countries, cannabis arrests in Australia are high. Since 2010-2011, there have been 702,866 cannabis-related arrests in the country, with approximately 90% of those charges being related to personal consumption or possession. Data from a decade later, ranging between 2019-2020, shows that half of all drug arrests (about 46.1%) were cannabis related.

Despite this, cannabis consumption in Australia is common. “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

In recent years, Australian residents have been surveyed to determine their thoughts on cannabis as a criminal offense. In 2010, 66% of people believed that cannabis possession shouldn’t be grounds for a criminal charge. This number increased to 67% in 2013, 73.9% in 2016, and 77.9% in 2019.

Recreational cannabis is illegal throughout Australia, with the exclusion of the Australian Capital Territory which introduced new rules about personal cannabis use back in 2020. Most recently, the territory decriminalized small amounts of other drugs, including cocaine, meth, LSD, and psilocybin in October

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.”

Ultimately, Ryan concludes that legislators should be addressing some of these important 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.

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