Psychedelic Therapy in Australia Likely To Cost Thousands

Patients in Australia will soon have legal access to the psychedelic drugs psilocybin and MDMA under a plan announced by regulators last month. But with no approved source of the drug available to therapists, patients will likely face bills in the tens of thousands of dollars to obtain the promising treatment.

Last month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the Australian government’s medicine and therapeutic regulatory agency, announced that qualified psychiatrists will be able to prescribe the psychedelic drugs psilocybin and MDMA for the treatment of certain mental health conditions beginning later this year. But the agency has not approved any products containing the promising psychedelic drugs, leaving mental health professionals to source the drugs themselves. Without a government subsidy to help cover the cost of the medications, psychiatrists estimate that patients will have to pay as much as AU$25,000 (nearly $17,000) and more out of pocket for psychedelic-assisted therapy.

“For the actual patient, it might be $25,000, $30,000 for a treatment,” said Dr. Stephen Bright, a senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University and director of the charity Psychedelic Research In Science & Medicine.

“I honestly don’t think, for the next 12 to 18 months post July 1, that these treatments will be very widely available at all,” he added. “The tight controls of therapy mean there are very few psychologists who put their hand up. There will be a few clinics that open up, but I don’t think we’re going to see the floodgates open.”

Dr. Paul Liknaitzky, the head of the Clinical Psychedelic Lab at Monash University, revealed last month that he and other mental health professionals will be partnering with investors to open a psychedelic-assisted therapy clinic in Melbourne. But training requirements for therapists and detailed guidelines for such therapy have yet to be issued by government regulators.

“There is a lack of detailed clarity from the TGA to help us understand how it’s going to roll out. We are concerned but cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Liknaitzky said that he and his colleagues will help establish protocols that set high standards for ethical and effective psychedelic-assisted therapy. But he warned that the high cost of treatment might make the treatment inaccessible to most Australians.

“Sensible and safe treatment approaches, based on decades of best-practice development, will include considerable screening, psychotherapy and other support. A typical course of treatment, spanning a few months, may be in the order of $25,000, plus or minus $10,000,” he said. “If it turns out to be cost-effective, it will be in the government’s interest to fund it.”

Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Shows Promise

Ongoing research has shown that psilocybin, the primary psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, has the potential to be an effective treatment for several serious mental health conditions, including PTSD, major depressive disorder, anxiety and substance misuse disorders. A study published in 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. 

Separate research published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. And in 2021, a study published in the journal NatureMedicine determined that MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, is a highly efficacious and safe treatment for individuals with severe PTSD.

But Professor Chris Langmead of the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences says that it is unlikely that public health agencies will cover the cost of such treatment until further research including a cost-benefit analysis has been completed.

“We’re trying to get a groundswell of research and funding so we can do the research, clinical studies and practice rollout [to ensure] that this is not purely a market-led solution where the most disadvantaged populations are missing out,” he said. “The TGA has put Australia at the forefront of the world and we really need to take the opportunity and make the most of it.” 

University of Melbourne associate professor Gillinder Bedi said that a shortage of clinical staff trained in psychedelic-assisted therapy will also make the treatment difficult for patients to obtain.

“The infrastructure will get set up. There will be clinics. But the problem is we don’t have staff. People can’t even see psychiatrists under normal conditions,” she said. “If you put two clinical psychologists in a room for eight hours, at a [Medicare] billing rate of $120 an hour – which is not what people charge, they charge $200 to $300 – you have an enormously expensive treatment. I think it could get higher [than $25,000].

“No matter which way you look at it, it will take time away from other treatments and cost a whole bunch of money. It’s unclear who will foot the bill, some organizations are trying to set up philanthropic funding,” Bedi added. “But it’s going to be for people with money, in the initial stages at least.”

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Australia to Legalize Medical Psychedelics

With a medical cannabis program that stinks of reefer madness and the decision to create COVID internment camps, Australia is the last country you’d expect to legalize medical psychedelics. But a recent decision by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will soon make it legal for psychiatrists to prescribe psilocybin and MDMA come July 2023. This would be like if Health Canada came to their senses and made Canada’s psychedelic medicine exemption as accessible as the government-assisted suicide program. (Telling […]

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Australia Approves MDMA, Psilocybin for Therapeutic Use

Regulators in Australia this week announced that qualified psychiatrists will be able to prescribe “medicines containing the psychedelic substances psilocybin and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) … for the treatment of certain mental health conditions” later this year.

Under newly permitted uses, those substances “will be listed as Schedule 8 (Controlled Drugs) medicines in the Poisons Standard,” but they will “remain in Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances) which largely restricts their supply to clinical trials” for all other uses.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Australian regulatory arm overseeing medicine and therapy in the country, said on Friday that the reclassification of the substances will take effect on July 1.

“Prescribing will be limited to psychiatrists, given their specialised qualifications and expertise to diagnose and treat patients with serious mental health conditions, with therapies that are not yet well established. To prescribe, psychiatrists will need to be approved under the Authorised Prescriber Scheme by the TGA following approval by a human research ethics committee. The Authorised Prescriber Scheme allows prescribing permissions to be granted under strict controls that ensure the safety of patients,” the announcement said.

The administration said that it will “permit the prescribing of MDMA for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression,” which it regards as “the only conditions where there is currently sufficient evidence for potential benefits in certain patients.”

“The decision acknowledges the current lack of options for patients with specific treatment-resistant mental illnesses. It means that psilocybin and MDMA can be used therapeutically in a controlled medical setting. However, patients may be vulnerable during psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, requiring controls to protect these patients,” the administration said in the announcement on Friday. 

“The decision follows applications made to the TGA to reclassify the substances in the Poisons Standard, extensive public consultation, a report from an expert panel, and advice received from the Advisory Committee on Medicines Scheduling,” the regulatory agency continued. “There are currently no approved products containing psilocybin or MDMA that the TGA has evaluated for quality, safety and efficacy. However, this amendment will allow authorised psychiatrists to access and legally supply a specified ’unapproved’ medicine containing these substances to patients under their care for these specific uses.”

The administration said that the changes in classification for the substances “were made by a senior medical officer at the TGA who has been delegated by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Aged Care to exercise their authority to make decisions about the scheduling of medicines in the Poisons Standard.”

“The decision maker recognised there is a need for access to new therapies for treatment-resistant conditions such as treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychotherapy involving psilocybin and MDMA has shown to be potentially beneficial in the treatment of these conditions,” the administration explained. “However, as with all medicines, there are risks with psilocybin and MDMA. Although these substances are themselves relatively safe when administered in the doses used in conjunction with psychotherapy and in a medically controlled environment, patients are in an altered state of consciousness when undergoing psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. It was decided that by limiting prescribing to authorised psychiatrists and for TRD or PTSD the benefits for patients and public health will be greater than the risks.”

The announced policy change comes at a time when lawmakers in Australia are readying a push to legalize cannabis in the country.

The Australia Parliamentary Budget Office released a report detailing a pair of potential cannabis legalization plans and laying the groundwork for a regulated retail marijuana market.

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Australia Report Reveals Potential Cannabis Legalization Plan

The Australian Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) recently released a proposal exploring two options on how to approach cannabis legalization. It was commissioned to explore what legalization could look like through the request of Sen. David Shoebridge (described on his Twitter page as “the devil’s lettuce daddy of Australia”) and the Australian Greens Party (also referred to as the Greens).

According to the PBO’s report, the first option would establish the creation of the Cannabis National Agency (CANA), which would act as the sole wholesaler between producers and retailers, set wholesale prices on cannabis, and issue licenses to potential cannabis business owners. Ideally, the agency would be funded completely through the fees required to apply for production and retail licenses.

This option would legalize cannabis for anyone 18 and older, specifically with no restriction on the amount that an individual can purchase. This approach would also create penalties for selling to underage individuals, which is similar to how the country manages sale of alcohol to minors. Recreational cannabis would be available to “oversea visitors,” and residents would be allowed to cultivate up to six plants. Finally, recreational sales would “attract the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as well as an excise of 25% on GST-inclusive sales.”

The second option contains all provisions from the first option, except for the final recommendation, which would change the excise tax to 15% instead of 25%.

The report explains that this approach would be similar to Canada’s law on cannabis. In Canada, residents may only cultivate up to four plants at home, cannot smoke publicly, and are limited to possession of 30 grams or less.

The PBO projects that the country could collect up to AU$28 billion in cannabis tax revenue during the first decade of legalization.

According to The New Zealand Herald, Sen. Shoebridge suggested that the tax revenue could also be used to raise rates provided by JobSeeker, the government’s job finding service, and raise financial aid provided by the job service Youth Allowance. He also suggested that cannabis tax revenue could help build more than 88,000 public housing units in the next decade, which could give more than 250,000 people a home.

“This costing from the PBO shows the incredible opportunity legal cannabis creates to not just reduce harm but to generate revenue that could be invested in health, education and public housing,” said Shoebridge. “The Greens’ model creates a right for adults to grow up to six plants at home without being taxed and without having to pay. This costing takes that into account. It also guarantees commercial possibilities for co-operatives and local entrepreneurs to grow and sell cannabis including through regulated cannabis cafes.”

He also explained that legalization just makes sense. “Legal cannabis makes enormous social and economic sense. When we legalise cannabis we take billions away from organised crime, police and the criminal justice system and we can then spend it on schools, housing, hospitals and social support,” Shoebridge said.

Furthermore, he added that legalization reduces the harm caused by criminal injustice, and that overall, polls have revealed that most Australians support and consume cannabis regularly. “It’s a fact that almost half of adult Australians have at one time or another consumed cannabis. Laws that make almost half of the country criminals don’t pass the pub test,” Shoebridge said. “When you legalise cannabis you can properly regulate the market, provide consistent health and safety advice and make the product safer. Right now the only ‘safety regulators’ for the cannabis market are bikie gangs and organised crime and that doesn’t make much sense.”

Commercial cultivation could begin in Australia as early as July 2023 if the PBO’s plans are adopted, which would ensure that the cannabis supply is well ahead of the demand. Applications for production and retail licenses could begin as early as 2023 or 2024, with an expectation of launching sales by 2024 or 2025.

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Australian Activists Face Charges for 4/20 Sydney Opera House Projection Protest

Two activists in Australia are facing criminal charges for projecting pro-cannabis messages on the Sydney Opera House, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. The activists, Alec Zammitt and Will Stolk, projected a dancing pot leaf and other images on the famed venue on April 20, 2022, timing their protest against the continued prohibition of marijuana in Australia to coincide with the cannabis community’s 4/20 high holiday.

A month before the 4/20 demonstration, Zammitt had conducted a trial run of the protest in which he projected images for a short time onto the Sydney Opera House from the Park Hyatt Hotel, a location with sweeping views of the iconic landmark and nearby Sydney Harbour Bridge. The images, which left no permanent mark on the structure, included cannabis leaves and the numeral 420, among others, and the phrase “Who are we hurting?” a primary theme of the activists’ protest.

Zammitt was contacted by police detectives, who visited his home the following day to conduct an interview. Before concluding the interview, the detectives told him that they were not sure if what he had done was an offense and said they would seek internal legal advice and contact him after a day’s time. When that didn’t happen, the activists believed they were in the clear and planned their next demonstration for 4/20. 

4/20 Demonstration Interrupted By Police

After returning to the Park Hyatt Hotel early on the morning of April 20, Zammitt and Stolk, who freely admit their actions, used laser projectors to again project the pro-cannabis imagery onto the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Before long, however, the protest was shut down by the authorities.

“The police ended up raiding the hotel suite where the projectors were set up. They issued me with an offense relating to the month prior as well as a new offense for the 4/20 projections,” Zammitt wrote in an email to High Times. “They also charged Will with the same offense under section 9 G of the Opera House Trust By-Laws.”

Zammitt went on to explain that the offense relates to “Distribution of advertisement etc. on Opera House Premises,” noting that there is similar legislation relating to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, on which the activists also projected pro-cannabis messages. So far, police have chosen not to pursue charges in relation to that part of the demonstration, however.

Stolk and Zammitt are fighting the charges against them, arguing that their actions did not constitute a commercial advertisement but were instead a constitutionally protected protest of Australia’s prohibition of cannabis and a message of support for reform legislation being debated in the New South Wales (NSW) Parliament. 

After being informed by the activists’ legal counsel that they would bring constitutional challenges to the charges against them, prosecutors changed their approach and agreed that rather than a commercial advertisement, Zammitt and Stolk’s actions were a political protest. However, they are continuing the proceedings and requiring the pair to present their constitutional defense in court.

Activists Appear In Court Next Week

On January 31, Stolk and Zammitt face a hearing in the case, where the NSW attorney general’s office will indicate if it will oppose the activists’ defense based on political expression or communication. If the attorney general opposes the defense, the matter will be set for a constitutional hearing.

If the case goes to trial and the activists are convicted of the charges against them, Stolk faces a fine of up to $1,100, while Zammitt’s penalty could be twice that due to the second charge for the trial run. Zammitt hopes the court proceedings bring attention to the continued prohibition of cannabis in Australia and amplify their “Who are we hurting?” message. He added that he has retained an attorney renowned for his work with constitutional defenses related to political expression and expects prosecutors to drop the charges before the case goes to the Australian High Court.

Stolk said he is tempted to pay the fine and be finished with the matter, but the case’s constitutional implications and his desire to continue spreading a pro-cannabis message keep him in the fight.

“We did this for a reason, and the reason was to firmly express our opinion and political belief that we should legally be allowed to consume and sell recreational cannabis just like we do alcohol and just like our brothers and sisters get to do in numerous legal states in the USA, in countries like Canada, Holland and Thailand, and soon even Germany,” Stolk wrote in an email. “We believe that the current Australian laws are stuck in the 1800s and we believe that it’s our constitutional right to be able to protest and express our political opinions.”

He also notes that the basis of the protest is the desire of many Australians to be able to smoke a joint without fear of reprisal from the government. He adds that it is a matter of personal freedom, something his grandfather fought for in World War 2, spending five years in a Nazi POW camp.

“I personally feel that if we give these corrupt politicians an inch they will take a mile,” Stolk asserts. “So as we are now in the position to take one for the team and stand up for our constitutional rights I think that no matter what the outcome it’s our duty as Australians to defend our freedoms that our ancestors fought so hard to protect.” 

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Study Finds Psilocybin Eases the Stress of MRIs

Researchers in Australia are studying how psilocybin, the primary psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, affects healthy subjects undergoing an MRI. The ongoing study is finding that psilocybin can make the MRI process less stressful or even enjoyable, with at least one of the participants describing the experience as “magical.”

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a process that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to create noninvasive images of the body, its organs, and biological functions. Images created through MRI can provide healthcare professionals with a wealth of data about their patients, but the confining space and loud noises of an MRI machine can cause discomfort and anxiety for many people who undergo the procedure. MRI manufacturers have responded by making more patient-friendly machines, but being subjected to an MRI scan can still be an unwelcome and stressful experience for many patients.

To address the issue, researchers at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University in Australia are conducting a study to investigate how psilocybin affects participants during an MRI scan of 60 healthy participants. Dubbed PsiConnect, the research is the first of its kind in Australia and is one of the world’s largest psychedelic trials to use brain imaging technology, according to the researchers. In 2021, the Australian government announced it would provide $15 million in funding to investigate the potential use of psychedelics to augment psychotherapy.

“Finding people was hard because we wanted people who had never taken this drug before and don’t have any mental health history, even in their first-degree relatives,” Adeel Razi, a neuroscientist from the Monash Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health and the lead researcher for the study, told the Sydney Morning Herald

Study participant Michael Taylor fit the bill perfectly. In his late 40s, he was healthy and had never used drugs recreationally.

“I hadn’t been that kind of person, you know,” said Taylor. “I’ve never even smoked a cigarette in my life.”

Study Participants Receive Small Dose Of Psilocybin

To conduct the study, the participants will undergo an MRI examination both before and after taking a small, sub-therapeutic dose (19 milligrams) of synthetic psilocybin. Researchers will then use the images produced during the MRI to assess any potential changes in activity after the administration of the psychedelic drug. The researchers hope that the information gleaned from the imaging combined with data from other evaluations will provide information that can be used to develop new drugs and therapies to more effectively treat mental illnesses. 

“I can look at how the brain is reacting to these compounds, and that gives me a window into understanding consciousness,” said Razi. “We need to have the evidence base of how it actually works in a brain without depression, and then the insights that we get, we can translate into use in a clinical setting.”

After he had been administered psilocybin and was put in the MRI machine, Taylor said that the loud, clanking noises created by the imaging were anything but distressing.

“It was the most magical music that I have ever heard,” said Taylor.

Taylor remembers the music rising to a crescendo like a wave, which eventually broke over him and flooded him with joy.

“I felt myself smiling, laughing; I’m sure I giggled at one point,” he said. “I was thinking: ‘I can’t believe this is happening. Why don’t more people get to experience this?’”

As the imaging process progressed, Taylor says that he lost all sense of self.

“I actually felt myself melding with the MRI machine and becoming one with it,” Taylor remembers. “Which is crazy – but that’s what it was like, I was just part of everything else around me. I was everything. And everything was me.”

About 60% of the participants said that the experience with psilocybin was one of the most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives. Among those who did not find the experience spiritually significant or meaningful, slightly less than half still said it was one of the most interesting or amazing experiences of their lives. About 10% of the participants said that they did not experience much of an effect from the psilocybin and about 5% said that they experienced unpleasant effects. Razi said that the initial findings of the research will be published in about six months.

“We will make all the imaging data and behavioral data open access,” he said. “It is one of the largest studies in the world, and anyone will be able to analyze the data, so it will have a long-lasting legacy.”

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Clinical Trial Finds Cannabis Oil is Well-Tolerated, Effective Insomnia Treatment

Many will attest, alongside myriad additional studies, to the sedative, relaxing qualities of cannabis as a sleep aid. Now, a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research adds additional insight surrounding the benefits of cannabis for treating insomnia, finding that the short-term use of plant-derived cannabis extracts is well-tolerated and effective for patients diagnosed with insomnia.

Insomnia involves difficulty falling or staying asleep and is relatively common, experienced by up to 30% of the general population. In their introduction, the authors point to the potential for cannabis to help alleviate sleep dysfunction along with the impact of individual cannabinoids on sleep. Specifically, they reference the sedative effect of THC and the potential of CBD as a sedative in higher doses.

The trial looked to assess the tolerability and effectiveness of medicinal cannabis oil on sleep in adults with insomnia. The study was conducted between May 2020 and May 2021 at the National Institute of Integrative Medicine in Melbourne, Australia. Researchers assessed the use of a cannabis oil product, versus placebo, in 29 subjects with chronic insomnia. 

Each extract contained 10mg of THC and 15mg of CBD per milliliter, along with a lesser amount of other cannabinoids and naturally occurring terpenes, and each participant consumed either the extract or a placebo for a two-week period. Participants were instructed to take the oil in the evening with food, increasing their doses by 0.1ml (1mg THC/1.5mg CBD) increments each day, starting with 0.2ml on the first day and maxing out at 1.5ml (15mg HC/22.5mg CBD).

The six-week study consisted of a one-week run-in period, a two-week intervention period, a one-week wash-out period and a second two-week intervention period, with four total assessments taken at the start and completion of each intervention phase. Primary outcome measures included saliva midnight melatonin levels and insomnia symptoms assessed by the ISI questionnaire.

Ultimately, investigators reported that participants using cannabis extracts experienced improved sleep quality by up to 80%, and 60% of participants were no longer classified as clinical insomniacs at the end of the two-week intervention period. Four of the total participants (14%) had no side effects, while 24 (83%) reported non-serious side effects, possibly related to the active medication, like dry mouth, diarrhea, nausea and vertigo. 

Researchers also noted that, aside from dry mouth, all side effects were only experienced on one or two non-consecutive days. About half of the participants in the active group reached the maximum dose over two weeks, though 20% stopped increasing their dose at 0.4-0.6ml due to side effects like vertigo or dizziness. Two participants reported more serious side effects, acute onset tachycardia (accelerated heart rate) and extreme dizziness, both of which were alleviated by lowering the dose.

At the conclusion of the trial, all but one participant (96%) found that cannabis oil was an acceptable treatment for insomnia, and the majority of participants (79%) requested an ongoing prescription for the medicinal cannabis oil, even the participant who had tachycardia. Five of the six participants who chose not to continue taking the cannabis oil cited reasons other than side effects (like work restrictions, driving a vehicle) for discontinuing treatment.

“Our short-term trial suggests Entoura 10:15 medicinal cannabis oil, containing THC:CBD 10:15 and lesser amounts of other [cannabinoids] and naturally occurring terpenes, to be well tolerated and effective in significantly improving sleep quality and duration, midnight melatonin levels, quality of life, and mood within 2-weeks in adults with insomnia,” researchers concluded. “Long-term studies are needed to assess whether chronic medicinal cannabis intake can restore natural circadian rhythm without the need for ongoing cannabis intake.”

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Could Decriminalizing Cannabis in Australia Save Taxpayers?

Decriminalizing cannabis in Australia could save taxpayers $850 million a year, says a recent report. According to the report released by the Penington Institute, criminalizing cannabis costs taxpayers $1.7 billion a year in law enforcement. Like other Western nations, Australia has a prominent underground cannabis market that has only grown more extensive and accessible in the last few years. Between 2019 and 2020, says the report, there were more than 60,000 cannabis seizures. “The average cost per person for police […]

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Australian Residents Could Save $850 Million Annually if Cannabis is Decriminalized

According to a new Penington Institute report, it’s time to give cannabis legalization benefits a closer look. “Penington Institute is known for producing Australia’s Annual Overdose Report, the authoritative study on overdose in Australia. With Cannabis in Australia 2022, we aim to fill the gap for accurate, up-to-date data on Australian trends, attitudes, and approaches relating to cannabis,” researchers wrote.

The study’s foreword was written by Penington Institute CEO John Ryan, who explains a few of the problems related to the current state of cannabis today. “The Australian community’s perspective continues to evolve but is sometimes undermined by a lack of access to evidence, misunderstanding and even misinformation,” said Ryan. “Penington Institute is committed to improving the management of drugs through community engagement and knowledge sharing and so I am pleased to share with you Penington Institute’s latest report, Cannabis in Australia 2022. Our inaugural report on cannabis presents the findings from many months of research and around 100 expert interviews, which we have condensed into a concise overview of cannabis use in Australia today.”

The report explains the amount of money that it costs to crackdown on consumption and possession. “In 2015-16, more than $1.7 billion was spent on enforcement, including: $1.1 billion on imprisonment, $475 million on police, $62 million on courts, $52 million on legal aid and prosecution, and $25 million on community corrections.” If cannabis were decriminalized, the report projects that it could save taxpayers up to $850 million annually. If it were legalized, it could potentially save residents more than $1.2 billion per year.

Similar to other countries, cannabis arrests in Australia are high. Since 2010-2011, there have been 702,866 cannabis-related arrests in the country, with approximately 90% of those charges being related to personal consumption or possession. Data from a decade later, ranging between 2019-2020, shows that half of all drug arrests (about 46.1%) were cannabis related.

Despite this, cannabis consumption in Australia is common. “More than a third of Australians aged over 14 have used cannabis at least once—37%, or 7.6 million people. Around 2.4 million Australians used cannabis in 2019, as did 200 million people worldwide,” the report states

In recent years, Australian residents have been surveyed to determine their thoughts on cannabis as a criminal offense. In 2010, 66% of people believed that cannabis possession shouldn’t be grounds for a criminal charge. This number increased to 67% in 2013, 73.9% in 2016, and 77.9% in 2019.

Recreational cannabis is illegal throughout Australia, with the exclusion of the Australian Capital Territory which introduced new rules about personal cannabis use back in 2020. Most recently, the territory decriminalized small amounts of other drugs, including cocaine, meth, LSD, and psilocybin in October

Meanwhile, Australia’s medical cannabis program continues to grow. “Australia’s medicinal cannabis market is rapidly expanding, with revenue in 2021 estimated at $230 million—up from just $30 million in 2019,” the report adds. “Around 40 companies involved in the medicinal cannabis market are listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX); the 20 largest have a combined market capitalization of more than $2 billion.”

Ultimately, Ryan concludes that legislators should be addressing some of these important points. “At the forefront of discussion should be the questions of how to improve medicinal access for those who need it and how we can better reduce the harm caused by our laws and the substance itself as we progress toward a more informed and compassionate community,” Ryan said.

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Australian Capital Territory Decriminalizes Possession of Illicit Drugs

The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has passed new legislation to decriminalize low-level possession of illicit drugs, making the federal district the first jurisdiction in the nation to make such a move. Under the law approved late last month, those caught with small amounts of drugs including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine would be subject to a fine rather than punishment by the criminal justice system. The ACT, which includes the Australian capital city of Canberra and the surrounding area, decriminalized cannabis in 2020. Under those rules, adults aged 18 and older are permitted to possess up to 50 grams (nearly two ounces) of dried cannabis and grow up to two plants

The new drug decriminalization law, which will go into effect after 12 months, penalizes possession of small amounts of drugs considered consistent with personal use with a fine of up to $100, which can be waived if the individual chooses to attend a drug diversion program. The law does not apply to trafficable quantities of illicit drugs, and police will still be permitted to target the illegal drug trade in Canberra. The new policy follows recommendations of a Legislative Assembly inquiry into the proposal from Labor Party member Michael Pettersson, who also spearheaded the drive to decriminalize cannabis in the ACT, making the territory the first and only government in Australia to do so.

The new law also reduces the maximum penalty for possession of several other controlled substances not decriminalized by the measure to six months behind bars. Prior to the passage of the reforms, the maximum penalty for drug possession convictions was two years in prison. Civil fines and diversion programs were not available for those charged with drug possession offenses.

The inclusion of methamphetamine in the ACT’s drug decriminalization law was controversial, with some lawmakers objecting to the proposal. But Pettersson argued that people who use the drug are often most in need of support from the health system.

“People that use recreational drugs are taking a risk, and certain drugs cause more harm than others,” he said. “If people are using a substance like methamphetamine, we need to make sure that we do not continue to criminalize them and make it even easier for them to come forward and access the support that they might need.”

New Drug Decriminalization Law Supports Harm Reduction

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said that the goal of the reforms is harm reduction and that the changes were developed with input from the advocacy group Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform, the substance abuse treatment community and those with lived experience as people who use drugs.

“We know that the ACT has a progressive community and supports evidence-based changes, and the evidence to support decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of a range of drugs is there,” Stephen-Smith said.

The health minister said that treating drug abuse as a health issue rather than a criminal offense reduces harm for people who use drugs and builds stronger communities.

“It both reduces harm associated with engagement with the criminal justice system – which is a harm in itself – [and] reduces the stigma associated with drug use and encourages people to come forward for the support and treatment that is going to help them recover from their dependence,” she said. 

Stephen-Smith noted that the new decriminalization policy will not take effect until October of next year to give police a 12-month transition period to prepare for the change and allow the community to learn the scope of the new rules, saying that this “is responsible, progressive change absolutely in line with the national drug strategy commitment to harm minimization.”

“Harm minimization has three pillars: harm reduction, supply reduction and demand reduction. This is about harm reduction, but we also remain committed to supply reduction,” she said. “We are not encouraging people to use drugs and we are not facilitating the trafficking or dealing of drugs with this change, all we are doing is ensuring that those people who have a small amount of drugs in their possession for personal use are treated with a health response, not a criminal one.”

However, not everyone approves of the ACT government’s decision to decriminalize the possession of illicit drugs. The Canberra Liberal Party opposed the legislation and party representatives have said that they will work to repeal the new law. Deputy leader Jeremy Hanson said the “radical reform” would cause several new problems while making existing ones worse.

“It wasn’t taken to the community, it’s going to lead to more crime, it’s going to lead to more carnage on our roads,” he said. “It’s not going to change the number of people going into the criminal justice system, and it’s not going to fix the problem that we have now which is not enough people being able to access treatment.”

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