Greens senator David Shoebridge has pledged to press on with the party’s bill to legalise adult use despite a senate committee rejecting the proposal last week.

The bill, introduced by Shoebridge in the upper house in August 2023, would allow adult recreational use and pave the way for legal home grow of up to six plants and a commercial cannabis market across the country. 

Fighting on: David Shoebridge (Photo: UIC)

It would also establish the Cannabis Australia National Agency as a statutory body to register strains and regulate activities including growing and possessing plants, manufacturing and selling products, operating cafes, and imports and exports.

The senate inquiry into the bill received more than 200 submissions, with opposition led by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) among others.

Despite support from the Australian Lawyers Alliance, the Penington Institute, and drug law reform groups, the committee cited warnings from the medical bodies that wider access to cannabis could exacerbate health risks, particularly for young people.

Its report said: “The committee is concerned that the legalisation of cannabis for adult recreational use would create as many, if not more, problems than the bill is attempting to resolve.

“While endeavouring to do so, the bill does not address several significant concerns, for example, ensuring that children and young people cannot access cannabis (particularly home-grow), managing risky cannabis use, and effective oversight of THC content.”

The committee did acknowledge that the majority of submissions agreed cannabis use “should be treated first and foremost as a health issue instead of a criminal issue”.

In his dissenting report, Shoebridge insisted the bill would generate thousands of jobs while hampering the illicit market’s ability to make “billions”. He pledged to break the “stranglehold of politics” by bringing it back to parliament this year.

He added that while the report “reasonably fairly covers the evidence” heard at the inquiry, “it does not detail the hundreds of individual submissions… that, almost unanimously, asked us to vote this into law and to finally legalise cannabis”.

While the pushback by the senate committee will disappoint reformists – although not surprise them – others welcomed the development.

Biortica Agrimed chief executive officer Tom Varga said the policy “risked health and risked creating divisions”.

“It was poorly considered,” he said. “The Greens seemed to have taken all of the worst examples of overseas legislation and thrown it together for this bill.
“Any future framework must avoid any likelihood of sale to minors. Locally, we have ample examples and experience from the tobacco and alcohol industries to understand how important it is to get the regulatory framework right. You only have to witness the current criminal impact on Melbourne’s legal tobacco retailers to understand that.”

He added: “Worldwide, both adult use and medical cannabis legalisation has gained momentum. The US and Canada are seen as the most mature markets, with Europe starting to catch up. We should be looking to these jurisdictions and drawing upon their legislative and regulatory experiences in terms of what works and what doesn’t.

“The Greens’ attempt to create a Canadian-style central wholesale structure doesn’t work. All that does is increase the likelihood of an illicit market. Even now, the Canadian authorities are amending those initial legislative and regulatory mis-steps, so why would we adopt their mistakes?”

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...

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