Australians Going Legal With Their Weed? Legal MMJ sales rise as illegal market sales fall, says new Australian study

Australians get high on MMJ: Study shows more people are turning to MMJ via the black market Down Under

In February 2016, Australia made medical marijuana legal thanks to royal approval. The Narcotics Drug Amendment Act was revised, allowing licensed parties to grow, manufacture, and distribute medical marijuana.

However, patients in Australia can only access medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. It’s still illegal to buy marijuana in any form, including online, if you don’t have a prescription. Some of the most common conditions people seek marijuana for treatment include anxiety, chronic pain, depression, inflammation, and sleep disorders.

But marijuana is notoriously expensive and hard to come by in Australia; This has led to a boom in the black market in recent years. Buying weed on the black market comes with many risks: patients have no guarantees as to what’s in the herb, and it can also contain contaminants that can aggravate disease. The unregulated products sold on the Australian black market are no different from those on the US black market: unknown ratio of THC and CBD, as well as other substances we have no idea about.

It is understandable why the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) needs to be strict about products it approves for patient use, even if this comes at a price.

But new research shows that while illegal cannabis is popular in Australia, more and more people are turning to prescription cannabis. Research from the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative aimed to gain a better understanding of marijuana consumption habits in the country, High Times reported. For the methods, the researchers conducted an anonymous cross-sectional survey of 1,600 subjects from September 2020 to January 2021. Participants were over the age of 18, self-identified medicinal cannabis users and residents of Australia.

The study’s authors point out that although marijuana has been legal since 2016, previous surveys show that most consumers have turned to the black market. On the other hand, regulatory data shows that as of 2019, there’s been a spike in medical marijuana prescriptions. In 2018, just 2.5% of respondents said they had a legal prescription to use medical marijuana. This time, 37.6% of respondents said they did. Those with a statutory prescription were predominantly women, older, and less likely to be employed.

“Further efforts should be made to convert patients from illegal to regulated, quality-controlled cannabis products,” said Professor Iain McGregor, Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics.

Difficulty accessing medical marijuana

While there is a surge in medical marijuana patients in the country Down Under, only 10.8% of survey respondents said the current system for obtaining MMJ is “straightforward or easy.” They said the cost of legal marijuana is a barrier to acquisition, as the average price is about $79 per week. On the other hand, those still turning to the black market said they had difficulty finding doctors experienced enough, or even willing, to prescribe MMJ.

“A number of benefits were noted in switching to prescription products, particularly when consumers reported safer ways of using medicinal cannabis. People who used illicit cannabis were more likely to smoke their cannabis than people who used prescription products, who were more likely to use oral products or vaporized cannabis, highlighting the health benefits of using prescription products,” said Professor Nicholas Lintzeris, the study’s lead researcher.

Around 27,000 Australians already have access to legal medical marijuana thanks to the Special Access Scheme, according to CannAus. They point out that just because you have a prescription doesn’t make the drug more accessible. Their January 2020 data states that the average person spends a whopping $436 monthly on MMJ.

Cost remains a serious obstacle, making it currently only a drug that the wealthy can afford. Over half a million people still buy cannabis on the black market, although they still have no choice when prices are still sky high. In doing so, they are exposed to numerous risks.

Growing support expected

Despite these challenges, which can be expected of any medical cannabis market that is still in its infancy, the reports are promising. There’s no doubt that Australia is experiencing a medical marijuana boom right now.

Another recent poll, this time from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), conducted in 2019, found that more Australians support regular cannabis use compared to tobacco use. The study polled 20,000 people aged 14 and over, showing for the first time that people in Australia were more accepting of cannabis than tobacco.

They also think tobacco users should receive tougher penalties, especially those who sell it to minors. The support levels are not that high compared to Canada and the United States. However, it is clear that more and more Australians are showing their support for legal cannabis.

In addition, the survey showed that support has increased sharply; In 2010, just 25% of respondents supported legal marijuana, compared to 41% in 2019.

There are currently more than 200 different cannabis products available for purchase by legal medical marijuana patients in Australia. The industry also continues to grow as more products are launched. Cannabis is available in oral strips, wafers, oils, flowers, capsules, and topical formulations. Oils are the most popular way of consuming marijuana in the country, followed by flower, based on September 2021 medical marijuana prescription data.

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