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Australia spends billions ‘failing to police’ cannabis that earns black market $25bn a year

Australia’s cannabis industry could be earning the black market $25bn a year and, rather than policing it, we could be gaining revenue from it by legalizing it, Greens senator David Shoebridge has said.

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“Law enforcement is spending billions of public dollars failing to police cannabis, and the opportunity here is to turn that all on its head by legalizing it,” he said.

In answer to a question from Shoebridge during Senate estimates on how much cannabis Australians consumed, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (Acic) provided data from the nation’s wastewater which found 14.6 kilograms of THC (the psychoactive compound found in cannabis) per thousand people a year.

The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates the average street price of ganja to be $13.40 a gram. Acic’s wastewater data is extrapolated across the entire population, and using the same methodology, as well as a higher-end estimate of how much THC was in the average cannabis haul, Shoebridge and his team arrived at the $25bn figure.

“These numbers reinforce the analysis we received from the Parliamentary Budget Office that legalising cannabis can bring in $28 billion in public revenue in the first decade,” Shoebridge said.

“If the Acic is right about the amount of cannabis consumed every year, then it is likely the public revenue we can gain from legalizing it will be even higher than the PBO figures.”

Legalizing cannabis would be a win-win, the NSW senator argued – freeing up law enforcement resources, bringing in tax revenue for the government, and “end the policing of young people, First Nations communities, people with disabilities and marginalized groups over a plant”.

The Greens justice spokesperson has announced he will be introducing legislation to legalize cannabis in Australia, mirroring the Canadian model where it can be purchased by adults from licensed dealers and government-run stores.

Wastewater in regional areas was found to have higher levels of THC than the capital cities – 0.025kg per 1,000 people per day, compared with 0.015kg per 1,000 people per day, according to Acic.

According to the most recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare survey, cannabis is the most widely consumed illicit drug in Australia, with 36% of respondents over 14 admitting to have used it in their lifetime, and 11.6% within the last year.

The number of people using cannabis across their lifetime was also growing.


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