Just 3.9 percent of Australians who used cannabis medically last year obtained it legally via prescription and about half of those medical-only consumers were chronic pain patients, according to the nation’s National Drug Strategy Household Survey. In all, about 2.5 million Australians 14-and-older – 11.7 percent – reported using cannabis over the previous year, while 6.8 percent of users said they were using it only for medical purposes, with 16.3 percent saying they used it “sometimes” for medical reasons and “sometimes for other reasons.”
Among cannabis users surveyed, support for legalization was overwhelming as 97 percent of recreational users (those that did not use for medical purposes) supported the reforms, along with 89 percent of respondents who used cannabis only for medical reasons, and 87 percent of users who used cannabis medically “sometimes.” In all, 41 percent of Australians backed legalization, while 44 percent said they approved “increased penalties” for cannabis sales.
The survey also found just 20 percent of Australians approved of “regular” cannabis use by adults, compared to 82 percent of non-medical users, 72 percent of medical-only users, and 65 percent of those that used cannabis medically sometimes.
Older folks were also more likely to use cannabis only for medical purposes, as 43 percent of medical-only users were 50-or-older; 14.4 percent were aged 40-49, 16.1 percent were 30-39, and 26 percent were 14-29.
The majority of non-medical users – 69 percent – were younger than 40, while 15.4 percent of recreational consumers were 40-49, 10.5 percent were 50-59, while 5.5 percent were 60-plus. The same sub-40 demographic was also more likely to “sometimes” use cannabis medically at 66 percent, along with 27 percent of 30-39-year-olds, 15.8 percent of those 40-49, 14 percent aged 50-59, and 4.9 percent aged 60-and-older.
Overall, the survey saw small increases in lifetime and recent cannabis use from 2018 to 2019, from 35 percent to 36 percent and 10.4 percent to 11.6 percent, respectively.
Australia legalized medical cannabis nationally in 2016. According to the Australian Department of Health, 15,566 patients are estimated to have accessed medical cannabis last year, a massive increase from the 2,526 estimated to have accessed the program in 2018.
A Prohibition Partners analysis in April suggested that a legal Oceania cannabis market – which includes Australia, New Zealand, Guam, and the surrounding islands – could be worth $1.55 billion by 2024, with 40 percent of the market comprised of medical cannabis sales.