Australia is about to legalize growing marijuana nationwide

Let the healing begin.
Let the healing begin.
Image: Reuters/Steve Dipaola
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Australia appears set to legalize the growing of marijuana for medical use nationwide. A bill introduced to parliament Wednesday (Feb. 10) by the Liberal Party would amend the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967. It looks guaranteed to become law, as the main opposition party immediately pledged support for it.

Under the proposal a national licensing and permit scheme would be established for supplying medical cannabis to patients with painful and chronic conditions. It’s expected to become law by the end of March.

“This government understands that there are some Australians suffering from severe conditions for which cannabis may have applications and we want to enable access to the most effective medical treatments available,” health minister Sussan Ley told parliament.

Some Australian states, including Victoria, had already started down the path of legalizing cannabis cultivation for medical uses. The bill introduced today clears the way for a national policy. “I am confident creating one single, nationally consistent cultivation scheme, rather than eight individual arrangements, will not only help speed up the legislative and regulatory process, but ultimately access to medicinal cannabis products as well,” Ley added in a statement.

The change will set Australia far apart from its neighbors in Southeast Asia, a region that’s particularly intolerant to illegal drugs, and mostly considers marijuana a hard drug. Singapore is well known for its death penalty regarding drug offenses, but it’s hardly alone in the region. Last year people were sentenced to death for drug-related crimes in China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, according to Amnesty International. China has been cracking down on celebrities who use drugs, including marijuana.

In Indonesia last year, two Australian heroin traffickers were executed by firing squad, despite pleas from Canberra to spare their lives. Australia recalled its ambassador to Indonesia in protest.

Other parts of the world have grown more receptive to marijuana. In Canada and over 20 US states, authorities have approved the cultivation of medicinal cannabis. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau wants his nation to become the first G7 country to fully legalize pot. Colombia, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Peru, and others have legalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis. The recreational use of marijuana is now OK in some US states, as well.

Australia isn’t new to the cultivation, and export, of pain-relieving drugs. According to the Financial Times it’s one the largest exporters (paywall) of the raw ingredients for painkillers such as solpadeine, or co-codamol. Those ingredients are grown in poppy plants on the island of Tasmania, about 240 km south of the Australian mainland.

For now there are no official plans to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Australia. But the first products for medical use of the drug could be available within months, said Ley.