The first record of common hemp seeds brought to Australia was with the First Fleet at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, who marked the cargo “for commerce” in the hope that hemp would be produced commercially in the new colony. Early governments in Australia actively supported the growing of hemp with gifts of land and other grants, and consumption of cannabis in Australia during the nineteenth century was widespread.
It was popular as a medicine, and was used as an intoxicant by members of the literati. Marcus Clarke, author of “For the Term of his Natural Life”, experimented with cannabis as an aid to writing. A short story he wrote, “Cannabis Indica“, was written under the influence of cannabis. Clarke and other members of Melbourne’s bohemian Yorick Club were notorious cannabis users. Until the late nineteenth century, “Cigares De Joy” (cannabis cigarettes) were widely available; these claimed to “give immediate relief in cases of asthma, cough, bronchitis, hay-fever, influenza and shortness of breath”.
Like many Western nations, Australia first responded to the issue of cannabis use in the 1920s, acting as a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs. This saw the use of cannabis restricted to medicinal and scientific purposes only. Cannabis was grouped with morphine, cocaine and heroin, despite cannabis’ rare use as a medicine or remedy in Australia at the time.
This prohibition model was applied with little research into cannabis use in Australia. Most drug-related laws enacted by jurisdictions of Australia during this time were related to opium. But, as a result of pressure from the United Kingdom, Australia began implementing local laws consistent with the Geneva Convention. In 1928 Victoria enacted legislation that prohibited the use of cannabis. SA followed in 1934, NSW in 1935, Queensland in 1937 and WA in 1950. Tasmania was the last to ban cannabis, in 1959.
Dr Julie Holland’s THE POT BOOK is a magisterial compendium of cannabis research. Available at www.hippocrates.com.au/products