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The state of Victoria completed an inquiry on cannabis earlier this year. Will it actually change anything for the drug?

In August, the government of Victoria, Australia, released the results of its inquiry into the use of cannabis, taking into account 1,475 written submissions, dozens of expert witnesses and two minority reports.

A few months on, Australia-focused cannabis investors are wondering whether the document's findings will have an impact on cannabis use in the state, or even in the country as a whole.

The short answer? Probably not. But there's more to the story than that.


Why did Victoria conduct a cannabis inquiry?

Back in May 2019, Victoria's Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee agreed to complete an inquiry on cannabis in the state. Although it was initially due for completion in March 2020, the deadline was extended twice, first to March 2021 and then again to August 2021.

Chaired by Reason Party Member of Parliament Fiona Patten, whose party supports legalising cannabis, the committee broadly looked at two streams of cannabis policy reform. One, the legalisation of cannabis for adult personal use, and two, a legalised and regulated cannabis market.

The report puts forth 17 recommendations and 21 findings, but Patten said after its release that the Labor-heavy committee banded together to water down certain recommendations prior to the drafting of the report.

For example, according to reports from the Age, the first recommendation of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria became: "Recommendation 1: That the Victorian Government investigates the impacts of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria."

Evidence from the inquiry suggests that legalising cannabis would keep young and vulnerable people out of the criminal justice system, with state parliament estimates suggesting Victoria would save AU$725 million over 10 years in police and justice costs.

Key highlights from Victoria's cannabis inquiry

Recommendations from the report broadly fall several categories: investigating a legalised and regulated market; health and safety; and education for minors.

Here's a wrap up of the main items the Victorian government was told to look at:

  • Investigate the impact of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria.
  • Consider referring an inquiry to Victorian Law Reform Commission to investigate state and Commonwealth laws inhibiting legislation and regulation of the cannabis market.
  • Provide ongoing funding to alcohol and drug sector organisations for drug diversion programs, and further funding to areas in regional and rural Victoria.
  • Implement a road safety campaign about the dangers of driving under the influence of cannabis.
  • Look at alternative testing methods for "drug driving," as current methods mean THC can be detected in a person's system long after being "affected by the drug," especially in the case of medicinal cannabis patients.
  • Advocate to the National Cabinet to remove unnecessary barriers for accessing medicinal cannabis.
  • Seek expert help on school drug education, avoid stigmatising users and promote help-seeking behaviour.

Minority reports included in Victoria's inquiry

Liberal Democrat David Limbrick, who participated in the inquiry, was "extremely disappointed" with the last-minute changes mentioned above and submitted a minority report in favour of legalisation.

It broadly supports the public policy Liberal Democrats have towards cannabis which is: "The Liberal Democrats support the legalisation of use, cultivation, processing, possession, transport and sale of cannabis, with protection of minors and penalties for driving while impaired."

A second minority report is also included — it comes from the Liberals and Nationals, both of which are firmly against legalising cannabis in order to protect public health and children. Signed by three members, it states that legalising cannabis only provides ready access and no deterrent to prevent cannabis use. They further wrote:

"The Liberals and Nationals support drug education programs warning of the harms of illicit substances, we support diversion programs that help get people off drugs, and we support other support services for those addicted to drugs. However, we do not support legalising cannabis."

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Glenn Weir told the inquiry in June that the use, cultivation and trafficking of marijuana causes "significant harm," and said he is firmly opposed to legalisation.

Will the inquiry impact cannabis legalisation in Australia?

Any hopes of legalisation were quickly dashed after the report's release by Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, whose focus is on job creation and economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to reporters after it came out, he said he has "no intention" of legalising cannabis.

"If you want to know why, then have a look at the sections in the mental health royal commission that talk about dual diagnosis, drug-induced psychosis," he told reporters outside parliament.

"Others have a different view, they're entitled to have a different view, but as the leader of the government I've just made the government's position very clear."

The lack of support by major state parties for the Victorian inquiry may speak to a wider delay nationally for supporting decriminalising and legalising cannabis. Combined with the narrow defeat of the cannabis legalisation referendum in New Zealand, it does not look like legalisation is likely anytime soon.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Ronelle Richards, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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