As support for the legalisation of recreational cannabis grows in Australia, Cannabiz editor-at-large Rhys Cohen analyses what it would mean for medical cannabis patients.

In 2013, the legalisation of recreational cannabis was supported by approximately 26% of Australians aged 14 years and older. Since then, that level of support has on average grown by roughly 2-3% every year. The most recent data from 2019 estimated popular support had reached 41%.

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Given a long enough timeline, it seems likely that net support will hit and exceed 50%. And if support continues to grow at the same pace it has for the last decade or so, we might see majority support for the legalisation of recreational cannabis in Australia as soon as 2025.

Of course, this trajectory might slow, stall or go backwards. Although for a whole bunch of reasons – global and domestic – I don’t think that’s likely. And support is necessary, though not sufficient by itself, to affect policy change.

But eventually, at some point, I am confident that cannabis will be legalised for recreational consumption in Australia.

Depending on when and how this happens, recreational legalisation may have negative impacts on Australia’s medical cannabis framework. And I’ll get to that in a subsequent instalment. But I’ve been thinking – are there ways in which medical patients might actually benefit from recreational legalisation?

Ensuring quality medical care

In 2017, even dying of cancer wasn’t a good enough reason to get access to medical cannabis. Thankfully that is no longer the case – if you have the money (and you don’t live in Tasmania), you can now get a prescription.

Some clinics have started bulk billing visits and even offering free interstate telehealth consultations, reducing the costs associated with getting a prescription, while some product prices are approaching black-market levels.

This is great for affordability and access. But cheap and quick doesn’t always equal good, especially when it comes to the medical needs of complex care patients. As it gets quicker and easier for people who want cannabis to get a prescription for it, the more perfunctory these clinical services will become.

Which is fine for otherwise reasonably healthy patients, or the non-medical cannabis consumers looking for quality controlled products. But it has the potential to compromise the quality of medical care many patients need.

Cannabiz editor-at-large Rhys Cohen

I support the legalisation of recreational cannabis because prohibition causes more problems than it solves. But I have mixed feelings about recreational users accessing cannabis through the medical system.

I don’t want us to end up in a situation where the only clinics I can recommend to my ailing parents, who might benefit from medical cannabis, are ones that pro-actively call patients to recommend they try the newer, stronger strain that’s just hit the shelves. And yes, that actually happens.

Rhys Cohen

As well as being editor-at-large at Cannabiz, Rhys is the director of Cannabis Consulting Australia, which provides commercial consulting services to various domestic and international cannabis companies....