More than two years ago, the Parliament of Victoria, Australia embarked upon an “inquiry” into cannabis in the state, Australia’s second most populous.
After 28 public hearings, 1,475 written comments, and one youth forum, the Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee released a final report on Thursday that contains 17 recommendations, including one that “the Victorian Government investigates the impacts of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria.”
“The overwhelming majority of stakeholders supported the need for cannabis law reform,” Committee Chair Fiona Patten wrote in the foreword of the report.
“Time and time again the Committee heard that the current criminalisation approach to cannabis in Victoria is not addressing problematic use of cannabis and is in fact contributing to the harms experienced by vulnerable groups.”
The government must respond within six months to the report, which is more than 300 pages long.
If the government chooses to legalize and regulate cannabis, the report recommends: that the legal age be 18 (which is similar to much of Canada, but not the United States, where all adult use states have set the legal age at 21); allowing for home cultivation (which most, but not all, states allow); regulating THC levels in products sold; additional considerations before allowing the sale of edibles (Canada, for example, delayed edibles sales by one year); efforts to improve roadside testing for impairment; and “market controls to to avoid the creation of a ‘big cannabis’ industry.”
The recommendations also include: moving youth education away from “stigma” and “just say no” rhetoric; requiring a “youth caution program” for those under the age of 18 to avoid lifelong criminal convictions; and expanding funding for treatment.
Medical cannabis became legal in Australia in 2016, but the report also suggests that the government works to reduce barriers to access, including the high cost of legal medical cannabis products, which is pushing patients to the unregulated market.
The Committee considered lessons from jurisdictions around the globe, including New Zealand’s referendum last year on adult use legalization, which was ultimately voted down by a narrow margin. Nonetheless, the government of New Zealand put months into drafting a Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill from which the Committee could pull. And, regardless of what happens next in Victoria, the comprehensive report lays additional groundwork for other jurisdictions considering reform.
Committee Chair Patten pointed to other areas in Europe, the United States, Canada and “neighbors,” the Australian Capital Territory, all that have introduced cannabis decriminalization or legalization measures.
“The lessons learnt from these jurisdictions shows that appropriate regulation of adult use of cannabis can be achieved, whether that is through the decriminalisation of the use and possession of small quantities of cannabis or a scheme that strictly regulates its sale and cultivation,” Patten wrote.