The social supply of cannabis in Australia: Definitional challenges and regulatory possibilities
In Australia, as elsewhere, retail markets for most illicit drugs including cannabis are often based upon friendships and occur in closed networks. Yet there is debate about whether ‘social supply’ should be limited to non-profit making by ‘friends’, and whether ‘minimally commercial supply’ is a more apt descriptor as many ‘social supply’ transactions often involve some small monetary or in-kind benefit. These definitional challenges are of interest in their own right, and also in considering whether and how, ‘social supply’ transactions could be treated differently in law. In this study, 200 Australian cannabis users aged 18-30 who were recruited from Melbourne, Perth and Armidale were interviewed face-to face, using a mixed quantitative and qualitative approach, to explore their experiences of accessing and providing cannabis. Most participants’ experiences of the cannabis market could be captured by the broad notion of ‘social supply’. However, definitional specificity was not aided by notions of friendship or profit. The findings have implications for the definition of ‘social supply’ and how low-level supply offences are addressed in law. Specifically, there may be merit in considering expanding current Australian drug diversion options, which typically include drug information and a brief intervention, beyond simple possession offences to include low-level supply of cannabis and other drugs, but it is unlikely a definition of ‘social supply’ could be applied in such regulations.
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