Although Australia’s black market cannabis industry is known for recreational cannabis, an increasing number of Australians are altruistically growing cannabis for medical use.
Medical cannabis has been legal for four years, but obtaining access to the drug through the Special Access Scheme (SAS) is extremely difficult. To circumvent SAS, medical cannabis cultivators have begun growing and distributing cannabis illegally.
While the number of underground cannabis growers is unknown the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that approximately 2.7% of all Australians are using cannabis for medical purposes. That’s approximately 600,000 people, the majority of whom obtain their medical cannabis illegally.
But growing medical cannabis illegally isn’t without its risks, even for growers with altruistic intentions. Underground cannabis growers face the constant threat of prosecution on cultivation, trafficking, and possession charges. This can result in both fines and prison time.
Growing an illegal drug is also a safety risk. Underground cultivators are frequently targeted for robbery by individuals and criminal enterprises looking for cash and cannabis, as cultivators can’t turn to the police for help.
But these risks are worth it for some cannabis growers. In a 2019 documentary published by VICE an underground medical cannabis producer known as Matthew explained that medical cannabis is essential, but inaccessible for many Australians.
Matthew is part of a team of people who produce medical cannabis illegally. Their enterprise runs like a nonprofit, gifting the cannabis to people in need and running from donations. Matthew estimates they help several hundred people, with the majority of their patients suffering from fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and terminal cancer. They also help patients with access to SAS, which sees patients paying hundreds of dollars a month for medications.
In an interview with Dopamine, the documentary’s Director Mahmood Fazal explained that many underground medical cannabis growers are doing what they believe is the right thing for chronically and terminally ill Australians, writing:
They have lost hope in the government and have taken it upon themselves to make a difference to patients who believe cannabis has improved their quality of life.
You can watch the documentary for yourself below.