As in the United States, for decades there has been conversation in Australia about the decriminalization of cannabis use. In early 2016, the Australian Parliament made amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act, allowing cannabis to be legally grown for medical and scientific purposes in Australia. Since then, 92 organizations have been granted licenses to grow, research and produce medical cannabis products. While only 250 people were given medical cannabis prescriptions in 2017, over 15,000 prescriptions were approved in 2019.
Also, in late November 2017, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) made Low THC Hemp food products legal for human consumption. And on February 1, the over-the-counter (OTC) sale of CBD products became legal in Australia, following a schedule adjustment in December by the country’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Again as in the United States, cannabis legislation at the state level has been out of step with federal legislation; on September 25, 2019, the Australia Capital Territory passed a bill allowing possession and growth of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. The law came into effect on January 31, 2020.
Australia’s state legislatures will move at different speeds on this issue, but undeniably they are moving in response to public sentiment, which shows increasing support for legalization of adult/recreational cannabis; in the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 41% of respondents supported cannabis legalization, with 37% opposed (22% are undecided). In the 2007 survey only 21% supported legalization.
The trend toward legalization for adult/recreational use is clear, and with a population of over 25 million, Australia is expected to be an exciting market for cannabis businesses. Indeed, in 2018 the Australian Federal Parliamentary Budget Office found that taxing and regulating cannabis could provide up to $1.5 billion (USD) to the Australian economy annually.
Preparing for Legalization
As in other jurisdictions, medical cannabis is leading the way in Australia, and we have seen in other jurisdictions that the companies licensed to deliver medical cannabis products and services are often the first movers when adult/recreational use is legalized. As a result, now is a good time for interested parties to think about moving forward.
Today, the race is on for market share in the cannabis industry around the world as laws continue to change. Harris Bricken has a long history of providing international cannabis ventures with the legal planning, regulatory support, corporate and transactional guidance, and compliance strategies they need. Our lawyers – who have on-the-ground experience in nearly two dozen countries – understand international laws, legal systems, regulatory environments, and the broader global trade context, and are well known for vetting, structuring and closing complex cross-border transactions. Many of us are leading speakers, thinkers, and advocates in the highly dynamic cannabis sector.
If you’re contemplating a cannabis business venture of any kind in Australia, you will need legal support.
Our Australia cannabis services include:
- Entity formation
- Intellectual property protection
- Real estate
- Inbound and outbound cannabis business transactions
- Debt collection
- Litigation and alternative dispute resolution
- Tax law
- Employment law
- Foreign Direct Investment
- Dispute resolution (litigation and arbitration)
Harris Bricken’s bold, innovative and connected approach has made us a leading name in international law, and we are staunchly committed to our clients’ success.