Australia's National Drug Strategy is widely acclaimed, both in this country and internationally, as a world leader. It features a balance between action addressing the demand for and supply of drugs. It involves a partnership between the government and non-government sectors. It addresses all drugs, both currently licit and illicit. Above all, its overarching goal is to minimise the harmful effects of drugs and drug use in Australian society (MCDS 1993). It does not have the impossible-to-achieve goal of eliminating drug use nor the simplistic approach of addressing just one class of drugs (the currently illicit ones), the approaches taken by some other nations.
The project to which this paper contributes is part of Australia's National Drug Strategy. Under the auspices of the Commonwealth/State Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, a National Task Force on Cannabis was formed, to prepare a paper summarising current knowledge about cannabis use; the paper will be used by the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy to assist it in developing a national statement on cannabis.
As part of this process, the Australian Institute of Criminology has been commissioned by the National Task Force on Cannabis to prepare this paper addressing the legislative options available for cannabis in Australia. We have approached the project with an interdisciplinary orientation, drawing on legal, criminal justice and social science perspectives. Much of the material presented is factual information that we believe will assist policy makers and the community at large to think systematically about cannabis policy and legislation in Australia; where we have expressed our opinions on legislative options, this has been made clear.
The paper is structured as follows. After these introductory remarks, in Chapter 2 we discuss the issue of policy goals regarding cannabis, arguing that legislation should not be seen independently from the policies it implements. We seek to clarify the key issues which underpin cannabis policy, focusing on the goals of those policies, since much of the confusion about cannabis policy options and their effects reflects confusion concerning the policy goals.
Chapter 3 places cannabis in context. A brief overview of the history of cannabis in Australia and elsewhere is presented. We then describe the legislative context of Australia's cannabis policies: domestic legislation and international treaty obligations are discussed.
Chapter 4 addresses the range of legislative options available. It describes the options, discusses their rationales, presents information on the impacts of those options and reviews them in terms of the goals which they seek to achieve. Five distinct options are dealt with.
At the specific request of the National Task Force on Cannabis we include, as Chapter 5, a discussion of the diversion, from the criminal justice system, of cannabis offenders, and the related topic of the compulsory treatment of cannabis users. This chapter, like the previous ones, draws upon both Australian and overseas experience in these areas.
The focus of Chapter 6 is the process for evaluating legislative options for cannabis. We discuss both policy evaluation and program evaluation, as they are usefully dealt with separately.
Chapter 7 concludes the main part of the paper. There we revisit the central issues of the preceding chapters and make recommendations regarding the legislative options for cannabis which we consider most appropriate for contemporary Australia. Consistent with our consultancy brief, we do not make detailed recommendations along these lines. Rather, being researchers and not policy makers, the approach that we have taken is to indicate those legislative options that we consider to be inappropriate, and to indicate the dimensions of the policy making task for dealing with the remaining options.
Three appendixes (touching upon the medical and horticultural/industrial uses of cannabis, and information about the authors) are included, along with a listing of source material that the authors found particularly useful.
We are conscious of the fact that this paper is one of four being prepared for the National Task Force on Cannabis. The others address the health impacts of cannabis use, consumption patterns in Australia and public opinion concerning cannabis. The findings of the other research teams in their respective areas should be considered concurrently with the information set out in the following chapters.
Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy 1993, National Drug Strategic Plan 1993-97, AGPS, Canberra.