The legalisation of cannabis has been one of the greatest, and as of now controversial topics in today’s world. People’s view in this area vary greatly, with numerous sensible arguments for and against the issue. Since the early 20th century, the distribution and usage of marijuana was deemed illegal by all accounts. Michael Dennis and William White of Chestnut Health System (1999) questions whether there is a middle ground for this debate. There are two different opinions: cannabis should not become legal as it is a gateway drug, it is addictive and can cause short and long-term effects. On the other hand, if cannabis became legal it can help dismantle the black market, decrease gang related drug violence, increase the availability of medical cannabis and increase tax revenue. Thus, understanding how the current legalisation of cannabis is affecting Australia and attempt to forecast the potential outcomes from changes to the legislation.
The American model of restricting cannabis has been exported throughout the world, including Australia. It portrays cannabis as a dangerous psychotropic drug vulnerable to extreme abuse and mishandles. Following this portrayal of cannabis, are laws that endorse cannabis with limitations. In Australia, Cannabis was listed as one of the most dangerous poisons on the Commonwealth Poisons Standard (Poisons Standard 2013 – no longer in force), and its use even in exceptional circumstances is highly prescribed (Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 – in force). The Commonwealth, State and Territory treat cannabis the same with substances like amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. From this, the prohibition of cannabis forms a key part of the National Drug Strategy (National Drug Strategy 2010-2015) and as a result limited research funding. This meant that Australia’s policy-makers do not have access to the full range of information and data concerning the nature and impacts of cannabis. This is probably going to change, given the announcement by the NSW Government in public funding for three clinical trials concerning the medical efficacy of cannabis (Hansen, 2014). (Hislop, 2015)
Cannabis is illegal in Australia and thus should not be possessed, sold or grown and as a crime a penalty will be stated by ‘The Australian Drug Misuse Trafficking Act’ (1985). One reason to why cannabis is illegal is that it is addictive, where the individual would be addicted to the drug and through excessive usage ruin their lives. The government claims that cannabis is more addictive when comparing to alcohol which is the reason it will not be legalised. DiChiara & Galliher argued that this contrasted with the demise of alcohol prohibition, where legal controls were placed on manufacture and distribution, but not possession. (Lenton, 2004). Users will have a psychotic effect as their perception is altered which could lead to criminal activities. The usage of any drug will come with short and long-term effects, where the short-term effects may include the brain slowing down, getting ‘high or stoned’ whereas others may feel paranoid, anxious and may have panic attacks. A few physical impacts include short-term memory, increased heart rate, red eyes, decline in coordination and increased appetite known as the ‘munchies’.
The long-term effects are more severe and dangerous than short-term as it may increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease due to rise in heart rate and inability to learn due to short-term memory. However, cannabis has medicinal use as it helps pain relief as it possesses potent analgesic properties (Smith, 2013) and other benefits but still causes issues with second hand smoking and potential lung cancer. Whether the cannabis smoke causes lung cancer is subject to debate and research but second-hand smoking will still be an issue especially for asthmatic individuals. Legalising cannabis will permit the country to additional benefits including therapeutic use, where it alleviates pain and possibly cure diseases. This will profit chemists and assist the economy with increasing market shares and income. To prevent cannabis from being excessively taken and abused the government may consider proper education and training of the drug itself; how to use it safely and recommended amount of usage. An alternative is to have cannabis only be available as a prescription drug and only doctors can prescribe and determine the amount for each patient. This raises a possibility of drug diversion where someone has access to a patient’s medical cannabis. A solution is to have cannabis dispensary clinics where patients regularly go in to obtain a few days’ worth of medical cannabis to limit the amount in the community.
Gateway theory is the hypothesis that exposure to low level drugs such as tobacco and alcohol speculates a more profound and serious drug involvement for the user in the future. The theory comprises of three propositions; sequencing, affiliation and causation. But there is an important flaw in the theory as correlation does not imply causation. Cannabis, cocaine and heroin have a common ground as they are a part of the black market with no quality and safety control. The unregulated black market brings consumers of cannabis into direct contact with sellers of other illicit drugs (BMJ, 2002). This will also lead to gang related drug violence as the supply of these drugs will vary depending on cost and quality. Therefore, legalising cannabis in Australia will allow the government to dismantle the black market, improve the quality and safety cannabis, decreasing the gang related drug violence and potentially increase tax revenues. However, this can raise the issue where people are not claiming tax for the plants that are grown at home which in turns becomes an illegal activity and lowering the tax revenue.
As previously mentioned, education and training on the drug will be expensive and time consuming thus it will require an investment by the government. Legalising cannabis will diminish the quantity of criminal offences such as smuggling and trading of cannabis. It will then allow the government to focus more only crimes such as hard drug dealers and fraud. If cannabis is legal in Australia they should implement a tax on it like tobacco and alcohol which will increase tax revenue for the country but also limit the amount they will be taking. With the revenue raised they could be spent on the economy to further progress the country with schools, roads and research. Also, legalisation can lead to further medical research and findings on the medical uses of the drug (National Institutes of Health, 1997).
Overall, cannabis should be legalised as it will benefit the medical industry, lower drug related crimes by allowing focus on more severe crimes, diminish the black market and enhance the country’s income and economy. At the same time, it may disadvantage the country in a few ways such as cannabis addiction, short and long-term effects and possibly an increased usage of other drugs. Therefore, if we embrace the opportunity of cannabis law reform, and change our laws to recognise the fact that the cannabis plant and its derivatives have numerous useful applications, health benefits and therapeutic effects whilst minimising the potential drawbacks concluding that there is a middle ground for this debate.