No. 185

THE PRICE OF DRUG REFORM

The Crows stoned? Well they’re not, but they do wonder whether Australia should follow the many chilled-out Americans and make marijuana if not universally legal then at least openly available. As in California, where it was legalised for medicinal use in the middle 1990s and where it seems just about everybody has an affliction, which the drug helps.[i] In Colorado and Maine, a big political issue at the polls this week is the size of the new sales tax on the drug.[ii] Overall, eleven states have medicalised and decriminalised marijuana.[iii]

After watching the final series of Breaking Bad, the Crows also wonder what Walt would want?[iv] Walt, being Walter White, is an Ayn Rand entrepreneur meeting a market need and controlling his own destiny by making crystal methamphetamine.[v]

Unlike the Yanks, what to do about dope is not a debate that excites anyone at elections here, and we are way behind them on marijuana consumer rights (although whatever you argue online leads the pro or anti cannabis factions to fulminate). Possession of 25-100 grams of cannabis “plant material” and/or a couple of plants attracts a fine in the ACT, Northern Territory and South Australia. The other states caution or counsel people caught for the first time with small amounts of the drug. However, growing and selling it is illegal/everywhere.[vi]  But with 10 per cent of Australians 14 years and over having used the drug, there is a market which the 51,000 people arrested for cannabis in 2011-12 were either part of or supplied.[vii]

Why worry about intermittently enforcing half-arsed laws? The Californian experience indicates marijuana is an alcohol substitute and, while easier access increases consumption of cannabis among the young, economists who have crunched the numbers predict “the public health benefits of legalisation to be positive”.[viii]

The American people agree. Some 38 per cent of them have tried marijuana and 58 per cent want it legalised.[ix]

But not President (“when I was a kid I inhaled, that was the point”) Obama.[x] The official federal position is that the drug is carcinogenic, impairs uses physiological capacity and no social or economic benefits would flow from legalising it. [xi]

So who’s right? Advocates of legalisation argue the drug is less dangerous than the demon drink. Robin Room from the (Australian) Centre for Alcohol Policy Research points out that the medical harm marijuana does is nowhere near as bad as alcohol abuse, which also has “the clearest causal relation to violence.” [xii]

Good-oh, but we are stuck with grog. Imagine the outcry if anybody tried to ban the booze – in fact, you don’t need to – prohibition in the US was perhaps the most disobeyed law in human history.[xiii] With overall consumption rates falling, the Crows can’t see the vast majority of Australian drinkers welcoming restrictions on their access to alcohol, or increased taxes because of the undoubted damage drunks do to themselves and others. [xiv] The Labor government was roundly derided for passing off an excise hike on pre-mixed spirits as a heath measure to protect young fans of alcopops.[xv]

And while misuse of the demon drink across society is more damaging than dope, there is ample evidence that Australian marijuana is not the mellow harmless high of wishful thinking. A recent study found THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis, in sufficiently high quantities in a majority of samples to meet the “hard drug” classification used in the Netherlands. [xvi]

Does this make or break the case for or against following the Americans? The Crows have no clue – in any case the debate is so politicised no politician will change the status quo.[xvii]

But I bet the Walts of the world want marijuana to be illegal. Their product is in demand, with discovered meth labs in Victoria growing from 13 in 1997 to 113 so far this year.[xviii] And the more resources we devote to suppressing marijuana the easier it is for the meths makers and the 73,000 strong market they service.[xix]

And if you want to know why this is a very bad thing indeed have a look at Louise Theroux’s documentary on Fresno Ca, “the city addicted to meth.”[xx] Or consider the medical impact of a drug that is as addictive as it is destructive.[xxi] It makes you mad (as in angry and crazy), ruins your health and rots your teeth – for starts. Sure we all have a right to choose our own hell-bound hand basket – but only if we do not expect society to pick up the price of really stupid selections.

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Need a speech written or a case made. Call Stephen Matchett 0417 469 093

ENDNOTES


[i] Adam Nagourney and Rick Lyman, “Few problems with cannabis in California,” New York Times, October 26

[ii] Kristen Wyatt, “Colorado voters deciding how to tax marijuana,” (Colorado Springs) Gazette, November 1 http://goo.gl/xBeUE recovered on November 2

[iii] Pew Research Centre, “Majority now supports legalizing marijuana,” April 4 @

[iv] AMCTV, Breaking Bad @ http://goo.gl/Lc434 recovered on November 2

[v] A O Scott, “Bad in the bones: How Walt found his inner sociopath,” New York Times, July 24

[vi] National cannabis and prevention information centre “Cannabis and the law,” @ http://goo.gl/Cq0yx February 19, recovered on November 2

[vii] Australian Crime Commission, “Cannabis Fact Sheet,” http://goo.gl/jlry5P recovered on November 2

[viii] D Mark Anderson and Daniel I Rees, “The legalization of recreational marijuana: how likely is the worst-case scenario?” Journal of policy analysis and management (forthcoming)

[ix] Gallup, “For the first time, Americans favour legalizing marijuana,” Gallup.com @ http://goo.gl/IzmnkM October 22, recovered on November 2

[x] Katharine Q Seelye, “Barack Obama, asked about drug history, admits he inhaled” New York Times October 24 2006

[xi] The White House, Office of National Drug Control Policy “Marijuana Legalisation,” http://goo.gl/ahvcf recovered on November 2

[xii] Robin Room, “Could a regulated cannabis market help curb Australia’s drinking problem?” The Conversation, July 18 @ http://goo.gl/bdMt7 recovered on November 2

[xiii] Ken Burns, Prohibition: A film @ http://goo.gl/BdJ5o recovered on November 2

[xiv] We knocked back 10.8 liters of pure alcohol in 2006 and 10.1 liters last year, Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Apparent consumption of alcohol, 2011-12” September 18 @ http://goo.gl/Z3UrzI recovered on November 2

[xv] Melissa Fyfe, “Alcopop tax fails to curb teenage drinking,” The Age, September 26 2010

[xvi] Wendy Smith et al, “Analysis of cannabis seizures in NSW, Australia: cannabis potency and cannabinoid profile,” PLoSONE 87 (1), July 24 2013 @ http://goo.gl/46jFE8 recovered on November 2

[xvii] Amy Corderoy, “Dope use is increasing, as is the surrounding debate,” Sydney Morning Herald, May 24 2012

[xviii] James Bourne, “Australian drug users following lead of Breaking Bad,” ABC Radio National, October 1 http://goo.gl/pbUr0J recovered on November 2

[xix] Nicole Lee, “Methamphetamine use and addiction in Australia,” The Conversation, April 23 http://goo.gl/xrtrhg recovered on November 2

[xx] It’s here (ex copyright) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Dlzv9inoqk recovered on November 2

[xxi] Ian Musgrave, “Breaking Bad and crystal meth – a chemical reaction. The Conversation, August 26 @ http://goo.gl/7fp8pn recovered on November 2

'2012