An Australian senate committee has dismissed a bill that sought to legalize marijuana use across the country.

Marijuana is permitted for medical use in Australia, but recreational use and cultivation is outlawed under the Narcotic Drugs Act of 1967. Yet Australia has one of the highest cannabis prevalence rates in the world, and Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm claims the existing ban plays into the hands of organized crime. He introduced a bill to make cannabis legal, but the senate committee rejected it this week.

“The committee agrees with many of the submitters that argued this bill is flawed and premature,” it said. “The known risks of illegal cannabis use greatly outweigh the potential benefits of legalization as contained in the bill.

Legalization could save law enforcement agencies around AUS$100 million ($72 million) and boost the Australian economy to the tune of $300 million ($216 million).

It is apparent to the committee that the modelling underpinning the proposed benefits of the bill is uncertain at best. It is also not clear from international experience that legalizing cannabis would, in fact, reduce the influence or profitability of criminal networks, or stop the black market sale of cannabis, including to young and vulnerable Australians.”

The bill was designed to remove cannabis and THC from the Criminal Code Act’s definition of narcotic drugs.

Leyonhjelm is a long-time cannabis advocate and he claims that the ban on cannabis casts otherwise law-abiding citizens as criminals, increases pressure on the criminal justice system and props up violent crime. He argues that legalizing it could save law enforcement agencies around AUS$100 million ($72 million) and boost the Australian economy to the tune of $300 million ($216 million). He also feels that cannabis is less harmful to use than alcohol and tobacco, so it should not be outlawed.

Leyonhjelm points to countries like Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and India as providing evidence of the benefits of legalizing cannabis. “The Liberal Democrats believe public policy on drugs should not be based on disapproval, but on harm,” he said. “A growing number of countries agree and it is time Australia did as well.”

He spent years putting the bill together, and he is unlikely to give up his quest to see marijuana legalized after this week’s news. Leyonhjelm is backed by Australia’s Green Party, which argues that the “war on drugs has failed”. It is calling for an Australian Cannabis Agency, which would enjoy a monopoly on the wholesale supply of the drug to shops, while boosting the government’s coffers via a tobacco-style tax.

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