The leader of the Greens, Richard Di Natale has stated that cannabis (marijuana) should be legalised for personal use (it is currently legal for medical use only). It will be sold in plain packaging (like tobacco), with its wholesale distribution monopolised by a new government agency. The Greens’ policy would ban the sale to people under 18 (like tobacco), prohibit advertising (like tobacco), and use the tax revenue collected for drug treatment and education programs. Di Natale stated that the war on drugs has been an unmitigated disaster1, with which few people in the know seem to disagree.
As a progressive social policy, legalisation of cannabis was bound to be anathema to the current government, or at least those in the far right of the Liberal and National parties, who seem to be pulling the strings these days. This was presumably why the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, came out with the usual drivel spouted by prohibitionists. He said “Marijuana is a gateway drug. The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana us is real and documented. We do not believe it is safe, responsible or something which should be allowed.”2Hunt also said that “as the government of Australia our job is to protect the health of Australians” and that he doesn’t care about any possible revenue coming from the taxation of cannabis3. If Hunt is concerned about the health of Australians, then it is surprising that he voted against plain packaging for tobacco products, as that has had a positive effect in decreasing smoking rates among Australians4. If Hunt was genuine, you’d think he would be similarly concerned about tobacco, alcohol, or even climate change which are all greater threats to the health of Australians.
Other nations such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Brazil, Netherlands and Norway, have either made cannabis legal or have decriminalised its use. Several states in the United States have also legalised cannabis.
Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, and a person unlike Hunt, who actually knows what he is talking about, stated “Banning cannabis hasn’t reduced its use or availability, yet it has distracted police from following up more serious crimes, harmed a lot of young people and helped make some criminals rich”2. Given recent ‘lobster with a mobster’ events in Victoria, perhaps the government is quite happy for criminals to become very rich. A donation is a donation.
As for Hunt’s assertion that Cannabis is a ‘gateway drug’; that may not be the case. Indeed, it may be that people who are vulnerable to drug-taking are simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as marijuana, tobacco or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with others who use drugs increases their chance of trying other drugs6. It may be correlation, not causation. Could it perhaps be because of its criminality that people who use cannabis are more likely to mix with those who use other illicit drugs?
As usual for a member of this Federal Government, Hunt was talking through his hat.