Toss Another Spliff On The Barbie
Beer vs. pot down under

That haze you see coming from the range on the Australian outback might not be a fire burning out of control. It's probably pot smoke.

See also...
... by Jeff Morris
... in the Whoa! section
... from October 27, 1999

For years, Australia has been synonymous with heavy beer drinking. But the image of the typical Australian as some sort of Crocodile Dundee character -- swilling down a 12-pack of Foster's and staggering home to rut with a wallaby -- is rapidly changing. Australia's reputation as a nation of big drinkers is being threatened by a new study that shows more and more Aussies are reaching for the bong instead of a beer.

Researchers at the University of Western Australia's Economic Research Center have found that Australians spend almost as much money on illegal cannabis as they do on their beloved beer, and twice as much as they do on wine. And government officials are worried about so much money being spent on a product they don't tax.

In their research paper entitled "The Economics of Marijuana Consumption," Ken Clements and Mert Daryal say Australians spent the equivalent of $3.25 billion on herb in 1995.

This figure is equal to one percent of Australia's 1995 gross domestic product (much... er... higher than previously estimated). The researchers state that as much as one-third of the adult population gets baked regularly, and they say there have been correlating studies that show when people are stoned, they consume less alcohol. "Alcohol and marijuana seem to be substitutes, with cross-price elasticities," they said. "... In most cases, (liberalized) legislation lowers drinking. Spirits consumption falls the most, then wine, and then beer.''

With government tax collectors out of the loop on pot, and losing money on the reduction of taxable alcohol consumption, talk in some political circles is turning toward legalization of marijuana.

The college crowd is also smoking more pot. Clements and Daryal surveyed students at Western Australia University and found that approximately 50 percent of first-year students admitted to firing up the bong.

The report further shows that when marijuana is legalized, consumption increases -- no surprise there. The researchers are estimating a 13 percent increase in cannabis consumption if the drug is legalized.

Clements and Daryal write that considering the vast numbers of Australian citizens who are reaching for the baggies and not the beer at the barbie, they are amazed that more economic studies haven't been done on the subject of the profitability of legal marijuana.

Another aspect of legalizing grass that appeals to proponents is the potential economic surge that could be created by farmers choosing to raise and harvest the weed. Currently, most of the marijuana consumed in Australia is home grown, raised in remote areas of the island continent.

There's no telling where this trend will go, but one thing's for sure: The word billabong is taking on a whole new meaning in the land down under.

Jeff Morris is a professional journalist who subscribes to the highest ethical standards of reporting... and other magazines, too.