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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Legislative Options for Cannabis - Australian Government

Chapter 4.




Many legislative options are available for cannabis and, as indicated in [1]Chapter 2, much confusion exists in the terminology used to describe them. In this chapter, we outline the five broad options available to Australian decision-makers, namely:

  • total prohibition;
  • prohibition with civil penalties for minor offences;
  • partial prohibition;
  • regulation; and
  • free availability.

Some readers will be aware that this is the classification used by the South Australian Royal Commission into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (the Sackville Commission) which reported in 1978. We have adopted their approach as it is, in our view, both precise and comprehensive. It avoids the semantic problems that often cause much confusion in debates about drug policies. In particular, it avoids the terms 'decriminalisation' and 'legalisation', terms which have different meanings for different authorities.

The five options listed capture all the approaches which people have in mind when they refer to 'decriminalisation' and 'legalisation', as well as other options which these two words may or may not encompass. The five legislative options are discussed in turn. We follow a consistent format to facilitate comparisons between them. First we describe the option; an example of it in operation follows (or, if there is no such example, we describe what it would look like if the option were implemented); we then outline the rationales which are given or are imputable (both philosophical and pragmatic rationales are covered); discuss the outcomes and impacts (observed or likely) flowing from its implementation; and in conclusion we evaluate the appropriateness of the option.

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