New research shows cannabis use costs Australia $4.5 billion

August 2020

The use of cannabis is costing Australia $4.5 billion a year, according to new research.

Involving expertise from around Australia and published by NDRI, the first national estimate of the social and economic costs of cannabis use in 13 years shows that, in the 2015-2016 financial year, cannabis use was responsible for:

  • $4.4 billion in direct tangible costs, including crime and criminal justice, hospital and other healthcare costs, reduced productivity and worker absence, and road traffic accidents; and
  • A further $100 million in intangible costs due to the premature death of 23 people, mostly through cannabis-related road traffic accidents, which resulted in more than 850 years of life lost.

Crime, health care, and workplace costs accounted for more than three quarters of the estimate.

The national research team was led by NDRI, and included experts from NDARC, NCETA, the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies at the University of Adelaide, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, the National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research at the University of Queensland, and Curtin University’s School of Public Health.

NDRI’s Professor Steve Allsop said more than 2 million Australians had used cannabis in the 12 month period investigated, with about 150,000 people meeting the criteria for dependence on the drug.

“When there are adverse outcomes of cannabis use this can require the use of health services or result in contact with the criminal justice system,” he said.

“Cannabis-related problems can increase demand across the healthcare system, from community mental health programs to hospital inpatient treatment, costing more than $700 million.

“The estimated cost of crime resulting from cannabis use amounts to $2.4 billion, accounting for more than half the total, with the majority due to imprisonment and policing costs.”

NCETA’s Professor Ann Roche said that the cost of worker absence and reduced productivity due to cannabis use was estimated at $560 million.

“There are likely to be further costs in reduced productivity, when people go to work affected by cannabis, but quantifying this reduced performance needs further research.”

NDARC's Professor Louisa Degenhardt added: “The link between cannabis use and schizophrenia remains controversial and subject to debate; nonetheless, those who are admitted with psychosis where cannabis is mentioned comprise the most costly cannabis-related hospital admissions.”

The research report, Quantifying the Social Costs of Cannabis Use to Australia in 2015/16, is available at This is the fourth report on the social and economic costs of substance use in Australia: the first report focussed on methamphetamine, the second on tobacco, and the third on opioids.