28 February 2015
Cannabis Historical Timeline Australia
Hemp (Cannabis sativa) arrived in Australia with the First Fleet at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, who marked the cargo 'commerce' in the hope that hemp would be produced commercially in the new colony, growing enough to supply the British Navy with rope! For 150 years, governments in Australia actively supported the growing of 'industrial hemp' with gifts of land and other grants.
The first Australian drug law was an Act imposing an import duty on opium, the primary purpose of the law was to discourage entry of Chinese into Australia, rather than to restrict the importation of opium itself. These first laws were carefully worded to apply to opium in smokable form only, not opium as taken by the European population. Australians in the nineteenth century were among the world's biggest consumers of opiates in patent medicines, most contained alcohol, morphine or both. Laudanum (opium and alcohol) was taken regularly by adults and children to calm them! Cannabis was not consumed on a large scale (although it was readily available for sale as cigarettes called 'Cigares de Joy' until the 1920's)
Australia signed the Hague International Opium Convention on narcotics (well over 100 narcotic drugs were controlled under the Convention) and extended importation controls over drugs other than opium.
The Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs imposed restrictions on the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, exportation and use of cannabis, opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin allowing for medical and scientific purposes only, despite the fact that cannabis use as a medication was rare in Australia at the time.
Cannabis importation and use was prohibited by the Australian Commonwealth Government with federal legislation implementing the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs.
Australian state of Victoria enacts Poisons Act and becomes the first state to prohibit the use of cannabis; other Australian states followed suit slowly over the next three decades.
South Australia prohibits the use of cannabis.
New South Wales prohibits the use of cannabis.
Queensland prohibits the use of cannabis.
The Australian Commonwealth Government extended import restrictions on 'Indian hemp', including preparations containing hemp.
Western Australia prohibits the use of cannabis.
Tasmania prohibits the use of cannabis.
Before the 1960's
Drug use was not completely unknown, but dependent drug use was typically the result of the use of opiates after first using them for medical reasons. There were drug dependent doctors (and their wives) and a small bohemian subculture that used drugs. Many Australian arrests for drug offences involved visiting jazz musicians!
Australia signs the International Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This convention supports an obligation to make cannabis available as a medicine. Most current State and Federal cannabis control Acts in Australia are in contradiction of this.
Throughout the 1960's
Emergence of the concept of 'recreational' drug use, the consumption of cannabis, heroin, LSD and other psychoactive drugs for pleasure or spiritual enlightenment occurred for the first time, and in Australia, drug use became widespread, if not mainstream, rather than an activity pursued by a few painters or poets. The official response was increased law enforcement, and legislative change to extend the range of offences and increased penalties for drug offences.
The Vietnam War contributed to the significant increase in drug consumption in Australia with US soldiers on 'rest and recreation' leave creating a market for cannabis and other illicit drugs and providing a glamorous example for the locals. The 'old' Australian drug laws were mostly under the various state Poisons Acts, reflecting an underlying approach of regulation and control of medicinal substances, with potentially addictive drugs legally available only on a doctor's prescription.
All the states had enacted 'new' drug laws introducing a distinction between use, possession and supply offences. Penalties for possession and use increased and very substantial penalties were introduced for drug supply, especially supply of large quantities ('drug trafficking').
The Federal and State Governments adopted a National Drug Strategy which included a pragmatic mixture of prohibition and a stated objective of harm reduction. Harm reduction has been an official part of Australian drugs policy ever since, although most resources by far are devoted to policing and border patrol attempts at interdiction ('supply reduction'). In all states, the impact of prohibitionist laws on drug users is somewhat modified by a number of diversion programs, diverting some eligible users from the criminal justice system to cautions or treatment.