In the second of a two-part series, Cannabiz editor-at-large Rhys Cohen examines the models around the world for legalising recreational cannabis and what they might mean if applied in Australia.

Let’s assume you’re someone who believes we should legalise cannabis for recreational use. Or you might prefer the terms ‘social use’ or ‘adult use’.

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You might already have a clear idea about what legalisation looks like. And if you do, that’s probably based on what you’ve heard about or seen in other places that have already legalised cannabis, like California or Canada.

The idea of walking into a swanky, upmarket venue where you’re greeted by a smiling employee ready to inform you of today’s specials might appeal to you. Or maybe you’ve always dreamed of turning your family farm into a high-tech cultivation facility.

On the other hand, you might not have a pre-conceived notion of what legalisation looks like. You might simply believe – as do 78% of Australians – that the possession of cannabis should not be a criminal offence. Or you might support people’s right to use cannabis in principle, but have reservations about commercialising it.

Complex options

The point I’m making here is that ‘legalisation’ is not a generic, well-established, pre-made policy that can be turned on like a light switch. Legalisation does not automatically mean party bus tours or billboard advertisements.

There are a whole bunch of different ways to regulate cannabis. One useful way to think about these approaches comes from a publication by John Caulkins and colleagues. In this diagram, broad categories of cannabis regulation are shown on a spectrum. On the left is one extreme – the status quo, but with more people going to jail. On the right is the other extreme – commercial legalisation without regulation.

In between are a bunch of viable alternatives, each of which could be implemented in any number of different ways. The approach most pro-legalisation Australians would be familiar with is the second from the right – the ‘standard commercial model’. Hardly ‘standard’ as it includes a bunch of US States and Canada, each with their own unique features and quirks, but moving on…

The variety of these options can make legalisation debates confusing. But it is important to remember that what ‘legalisation’ looks like is not set in stone. In terms of a potential Australian cannabis framework, everything is on the table. Theoretically speaking, at least.