Weighing the cost of marijuana prohibition
THE average Grafton pot smoker spends $250 for an ounce of medium-quality marijuana, translating to about $9 a gram when buying in bulk.
For what is ostensibly a wild-growing weed, that is some serious money weighing down the pockets of drug dealers.
The Grafton figure comes from a website allowing users to submit their pot prices, which are then averaged out and published so crimson-eyed travellers know what they can expect.
Submissions have been tendered from towns all over the country.
Australian Federal Police said they were powerless to shut down the website.
"These sites aren't illegal. They're no different to (online black market) Silk Road in that accessing them doesn't break the law," a spokesman said.
"The Australian Crime Commission actually publishes current street prices in the Illicit Drug Data Report every year.
"If someone does believe websites like this are breaking Australian law, they can ring the Australian Communications and Media Authority."
With prices so high, it begs the question: would Australia be better off legalising recreational marijuana use, regulating the industry and taking the money out of drug dealers' hands?
SHOW ME THE MONEY
Such a potential honey pot has not escaped our federal politicians' gaze.
In December, the Parliamentary Budget Office released an estimate of how much the government could raise if it applied a 10% GST to marijuana products and stopped spending money on law enforcement.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm CORRECT called for the report after claiming $1.5 billion was spent annually on drug policing.
The PBO found the government would make $650 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year if legalisation was introduced in July 2017.
It also found increased availability would lead to lower prices and, in turn, an increase in the national marijuana consumption from the current 333 tonnes per year to 395 tonnes.
That is not to say consumption would remain inflated.
As the Australian Medical Association (NSW) told a NSW parliamentary inquiry: "Research indicates that the introduction of liberal drug laws may result in a slight increase in temporary drug use, but that it is unlikely to increase, and may even decrease, drug-related health costs".
WHO WANTS WHAT
Another issue, beyond the potential cash-in-hand benefits, is whether Australia even has an appetite for lifting current bans.
Roy Morgan Research has been asking that question for more than a decade.
It released a report in January stating the proportion of the population who favoured legalisation grew from 26.8% in 2004 to 31.8% in 2014.
The 65-plus age bracket underwent the largest proportional increase in favour of legalisation, from 16.9% to 25.5%.
But it still remained well behind young Australians aged 18 to 24, of whom 35.7% favoured lifting prohibition laws.
"However, the current debate is centred on medical use rather than personal recreational use, so this casts a different light on the issue, and may provide a clue as to why there has been significant growth in support for legalisation among Australians aged 50 and over," Roy Morgan Research CEO Michele Levine said.
"Of course, it's also worth noting that many Aussies aged 50-plus would have been part of the hippy movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which had very liberal views on marijuana use."
Last month the Australian Government took a historic step, making it legal to grow marijuana (with restrictions) for use in medicine.
Anti-drugs lobby group Drug Free Australia stood fiercely against any form of legalisation, medicinal included.
"Drug Free Australia contends that very few of these Australians would be able to specify the handful of medical indications attributed to cannabis, and would likely disapprove anything which would proliferate recreational cannabis use," it told the NSW parliamentary inquiry.
"Just one single cannabis plant, harvested up to five times a year, can yield 2500 grams of cannabis per year - enough for 8600 joints - far beyond the needs of any single patient.
"As such, even a single cannabis plant represents trafficable quantities of cannabis."
Legalisation could make Australia a lot of money and put drug dealers out of work, but many argue the associated risks outweigh the benefits.
Despite shifting views, the majority of Australians, like both major political parties, still stand against an out-and-out recreational dope revolution. - ARM NEWSDESK
SYNTHETIC cannabinoids were created by scientists for research and co-opted by tricky drug dealers using legal loopholes to sidestep prosecution.
Despite the drug being banned Australia-wide since 2012, hospital admissions and even deaths persist from people getting their hands on it.
The original appeal was obvious.
New laboratory-created chemicals that mimicked the psychoactive effects of marijuana were popping up quicker than the government could ban them.
They could spray one such chemical on a dried herb that looked similar to marijuana, package it and even sell it on shelves at otherwise legal shops.
Sometimes it is marketed as herbal tea.
Once it was banned, all it took was a slight modification here and there to produce an entirely new chemical that was not yet registered on the prohibited list.
This continued until 2012, when the Therapeutic Goods Administration created a general entry for "synthetic cannabinomimetics" not already specified on the banned list.
As the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre states, it intended to "stop the need for ongoing urgent scheduling as new synthetic cannabis-like substances emerge".
The industry has now gone underground, and users generally have no idea what chemical they are smoking.
One bad batch led to a Hunter Valley teen dying and two men falling seriously ill after smoking it last month.
Police last year suspected smoking toxic synthetic marijuana killed two men in Mackay.
"There have been a range of adverse side effects associated with synthetic cannabinoid products, including nausea, anxiety, paranoia, brain swelling, seizures, hallucinations, aggression, heart palpitations and chest pains," the NCPIC said.