Australian politicians locked horns over whether cannabis should be legalized in a fiery debate in parliament on Monday.

The Senate is debating a bill put forward by Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm that seeks to give states the power to legalize cannabis for medicinal and recreational use. Right now marijuana is only legal in specific medical cases, but Leyonhjelm argued that it’s “high time we stop interfering with adult choices”. Canada is about to legalize cannabis for recreational use, opening up a multibillion-dollar industry, and the senator wants Australia to follow suit.

But he was met by fierce opposition from Liberal senator Jane Hume, who reeled off studies linking cannabis use to mental health issues and other harmful side effects. “It’s unfathomable that anybody in this place could support a bill that increases a likelihood of teen suicide and of youth dropping out of school,” she said.

The country’s Green Party supports the widespread regulation of cannabis, but for medicinal use and not recreational use. Leyonhjelm accused it of “wowserism”.

An estimated 35% of Australians admit to having used cannabis and they are in favour of legalizing it for everyone.

His Removing Commonwealth Restrictions on Cannabis Bill was tabled last month, aiming to remove wealth barriers to the legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis. However, it failed to gain approval from a six-strong senate committee that weighed up the pros and cons of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. The committee called his bill “flawed and premature,” adding: “The known risks of illegal cannabis use greatly outweigh the potential benefits of legalization as contained in the bill.”

Senators are now debating it in parliament, but proponents fear that Leyonhjelm and his cohorts are fighting a losing battle. They claim that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and outlawing amounts to flawed nanny-stateism. “We have reached a level of maturity in this country where we can move beyond policies based on fear or disapproval and embrace an evidence-based medical and harm-minimization strategy, as sophisticated societies have done elsewhere,” said Leyonhjelm.

An estimated 35% of Australians admit to having used cannabis and they are in favour of legalizing it for everyone. There is a groundswell of support for a regulated industry among chronic pain sufferers in Australia, but Leyonhjelm needs to work harder to gain broad political support to push through his bill.

Yet it has not stopped a burgeoning medicinal cannabis industry gathering pace in Australia and The Hydroponics Company is the latest firm making ambitious moves to seize a share of this lucrative market. It has just announced plans to create a cultivation site in northern New South Wales and a growing, research and development facility in Queensland.

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