The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has taken a firm stand against a proposed bill aiming to legalize cannabis for adult use. Citing potential “health and social-related harms,” the AMA expressed its reservations, emphasizing the need to prioritize health considerations over recreational use.
In a letter outlining its opposition to the legalization bill, the AMA clarified its stance, asserting support for the decriminalization of cannabis for personal use and an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old. However, the organization raised concerns about the potential misuse of recreational cannabis for self-medication, pointing out Australia’s existing robust process for evaluating the safety, quality, and efficacy of therapeutic products through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
The AMA argued that legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes might convey a misleading message to the public, suggesting that cannabis use is not harmful. Despite recognizing room for improvement in the current cannabis regulation approach, the organization emphasized treating cannabis use primarily as a health issue rather than a criminal one. The AMA voiced its support for the TGA’s role in assessing cannabis products for therapeutic purposes.
The association acknowledged that while the absolute risk of harms associated with cannabis use is low, occasional users are unlikely to be significantly affected. However, it underscored the existence of short- and long-term mental and physical health impacts, which can vary based on individual factors such as mood, weight, method of administration, and quantities used.
A major concern expressed by the AMA is the potential strain on an already stretched healthcare system. The organization fears that legalization could exacerbate the pressure on limited and under-funded mental health and drug rehabilitation services, raising questions about the overall societal impact of such a legislative move.
Cannabis holds the distinction of being the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia, with 36% of Australians aged 14 and older reporting cannabis use at some point in their lives, according to 2019 figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Additionally, 11.6% of Australians admitted to consuming cannabis within the previous year. It’s noteworthy that while cannabis is legal for medical purposes in Australia, the AMA’s opposition signals a cautious approach toward broader legalization efforts.
As the debate on cannabis legalization unfolds in Australia, the AMA’s concerns bring to light the delicate balance between individual freedoms and public health considerations. The outcome of this legislative proposal will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for Australia’s approach to cannabis use and regulation.