Let’s get real about cannabis – take it out of the hands of criminals.
Finally a political party with significant numbers in our national parliament has taken the common sense though courageous step towards sensible drug law reform. In what many will regard as a long overdue move, last week Australian Greens party room leader Richard Di Natale announced plans to legalise the recreational use of cannabis to take it ‘out of the hands of criminals and dealers,’ as reported by ABC TV news.
“When will politicians realise the war on drugs has failed? We need to be investing in harm minimisation drug law reforms that work” said Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge.
The Senator is not suggesting a free for all. Instead the proposal calls for the establishment of an Australian Cannabis Agency that would be given a monopoly over the wholesale supply of the drug to shops, while collecting millions of dollars in a tobacco-style tax from consumers.
Staff at the shops selling cannabis would be forced to undergo responsible service of drugs training and varieties of marijuana would come in plain packaging detailing strains and health warnings.
“As someone who was a drug and alcohol doctor, I’ve seen how damaging the tough on drugs approach is to people,” Senator Di Natale told Channel Ten.
“Governments around the world are realising that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents,” said Di Natale, a former GP who worked in drug and alcohol addiction.
“We’ve got to take this out of the hands of criminals and dealers, [and] we’ve got to make sure it’s within the hands of health professionals.”
As part of the plan, the agency would be created to be the sole wholesaler of cannabis, as well as the outlet responsible for issuing licenses for prospective growers and retailers. There would be strict penalties for people caught selling cannabis to minors. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants for personal use.
Reaction has on the whole been positive, though Health Minister (the Liberal Party’s) Greg Hunt spun the lie that, “The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real,” and Murdoch’s the Daily Telegraph labelled the campaign a “Loopy Green pot plan”.
However, Alcohol and Drug Foundation policy manager Geoff Munro said “There may be some positive effect. It could reduce stigma around cannabis use and make it easier for people who are dependent to seek treatment.”
President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Alex Wodak said banning cannabis hadn’t stopped people using it, had distracted police and helped make some criminals rich.
“Regulating cannabis will give government more control and increase government revenue, which can be used to fund drug prevention and treatment,” Dr Wodak said.
The policy has support from former Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Palmer.
Di Natale also pointed out that legalising cannabis for recreational use could be a revenue earner. Though media reports noted that no evidence for this had been provided the US state of Colorado earned more than $260 million in tax revenue in 2016 after it sold more than $1.7 billion worth of marijuana, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
And a costing by the Parliamentary Budget Office for independent senator David Leyonhjelm found the budget would be boosted by $259 million over the 2015-16 forward estimates if Australia legalised cannabis. In all counts this proposal could be a win-win outcome to a problem that has bedevilled the world for decades.