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Medicinal cannabis policy reforms in contemporary Australia

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posted on 2022-11-04, 05:11 authored by Rhys Cohen

The 2016 federal legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia was a significant development in drug policy that was, according to much of the literature, primarily caused by effective lobbying from patient advocacy groups. The policies that were initially implemented to facilitate access to medicinal cannabis have since undergone substantive reforms. This thesis examines the conditions that led to legalisation, the policies that were initially implemented, and the ongoing role that advocates have played in reforming these policies. This is done through a combination of documentary research on legislative and regulatory changes from 2014 to 2020, and in-depth semi-structured interviews with six prominent patient advocates. 

Using Baumgartner and Jones’ theory of punctuated equilibrium this thesis shows that, while advocates were successful in securing federal legalisation, this was not the end of the reform process. Legalisation was followed by a volatile series of policy changes across federal and state governments, as competing interest groups contested the expansion of patient access. Advocates adapted their lobbying strategies which contributed to the intervention of senior federal policymakers in 2018. The government created a new online portal which has significantly streamlined and expedited access. Advocates now report more collaborative relationships with governments, and have become increasingly incorporated into policymaking processes, suggesting the formation of a new policy status-quo.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Theory and literature review -- 3. Methodology -- 4. Punctuation -- 5. Disruption -- 6. Harmonisation -- 7. Conclusion -- Appendices


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Research, Faculty of Arts, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University, Australia

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis MRes, Macquarie University, Department of Sociology, 2022

Department, Centre or School

Department of Sociology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ben Spies-Butcher


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