Cannabis is the most prevalent illicit drug used in Australia and around the world. The recent United Nations 2014 World Drug Report says that more than 10 per cent of people between the ages of 16 and 65 use cannabis in Australia.
Cannabis has now been legalised for medical use in more than 20 US states, Canada, Israel and several European countries.
Currently Cannabis is illegal in Australia. According to the AFP’s (Australian Federal Police) ACT it is illegal to:
- cultivate or sell or supply marijuana.
Legalising cannabis would bring both benefits and disadvantages. This article will discuss some of the costs and benefits of legalisation of cannabis in Australia.
Negatively Effects Health
Proponents against the legalisation of marijuana state that cannabis has very dire heath consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Administration, “treatment enrolment and hospitalizations related to cannabis use have been increasing.” For example, in the US there was a 59% increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits between 2006 and 2010.
Studies show that cannabis effects the central nervous system and overstimulates naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors in the brain, influencing memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination and sensory and time perception.
Marijuana also affects brain development in the areas of learning and memory when it is used heavily by young people and may have a lasting or permanent effect. A research conducted in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana before 18 and were addicted by age 38 averaged a loss of 8 IQ points. The loss in cognitive abilities was also not fully restored in those who quit smoking marijuana as adults. Adults who started smoking after 18 – even heavy users- did not show significant declines in IQ.
Cannabis also effects heart rate and lowers blood pressure. This combination results in a 4x greater risk of a heart attack within the first hour of smoking marijuana.
Increased THC potency
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana concentrates in plants that are harvested using advanced cultivation methods have significantly higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than previously observed. In 2012 THC concentrations in marijuana samples confiscated averaged close to 15% in comparison to around 4% potency in the 1980s.
This increased potency may be what is contributing to the increased risk of drug use disorders and dependence.
The composition between various cannabis leaves can vary and is dependent on where it is sourced, how it is grown, and what time of year it is harvested. As a result, cannabis is believed to be much more dangerous than prescription drugs because it is not manufactured in a controlled environment under strict quality standards.
Increases Drug Addictions
Along with dependence due to increased potency, it is also believed that increased usage of cannabis leads to addiction. The serious health problems associated with drug addiction include permanent mental illness, communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS, and death or illness due to overdosing.
It is also believed that marijuana is a “gateway drug” for people and taking cannabis increases the risk of people taking harder drugs down the road. It is much easier to become addicted to harder drugs. The social costs to feeding an inevitable addiction include;
- Increased criminal activity and subsequent jail time
- Lower life satisfaction
- More relationship problems
- Less academic and career success
Puts Children at Greater Risk
Legalisation would increase the chances of the drug falling into the hands of kids. Emergency room visits have spiked in US states where “medical marijuana” is available due to ingestion of marijuana edibles.
The THC in cannabis has pain relieving properties, which is why many people feel marijuana should be legalised for medicinal purposes.
Marijuana can be used for glaucoma because it lowers the intraocular pressure of the eye caused by the disease and may slow the progression of the disease.
A 2003 study showed that the THC in marijuana can prevent epileptic seizures as it binds to the brain cells associated with excitability and regulating relaxation.
Marijuana may also slow the progression of Alzheimers. A study published in Molecular Pharmaceutics found that THC slows the formation of amyloid plaques.
It is argued that for those people for which other medication has not provided relief and who lack other alternatives then the legalisation of the therapeutic use of medical marijuana should be considered on compassionate grounds. Conditions such as Lupus, MS, Parkinsons, PTSD, Arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease are all conditions that benefit from the pain and spasm relieving properties of marijuana.
Other drugs such as heavy opiates are prescribed commonly for people with cancer or chronic pain and they are much more addictive than cannabis. The side effects of cannabis are benign compared to many of the medicines currently prescribed for many conditions.
The Australian Drug Foundation supports research into medicinal marijuana usage and says some serious and debilitating conditions such as terminal illness, neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment have been proven to be relieved by use of medical cannabis with low levels of THC.
When marijuana usage is illegal many people are caught up in the criminal justice system that may otherwise not be if marijuana was legal. It is often due to drug-related arrests, that people are likely to commit more crimes. Drug busts often trap young people in a flawed system that turns them into lifelong criminals.
Since harsh punishments may do nothing to dissuade people from using drugs; Australia in recent years has put The Cannabis Cautioning Scheme into effect. This Scheme provides for formal police cautioning of adult offenders detected for minor cannabis offences.
The caution is used to help offenders consider the legal and health ramifications of their cannabis use and seek treatment and support.
Cannabis has many other uses besides medicinal. Over 25,000 products can be made from the crop, which would help to support the economy.
Finally, licensing cannabis would give the Australian economy an additional source of tax revenue. This increase in income would help to reduce the countries deficit. If marijuana was legalised, there would also be budgetary savings from cutting the costs of policing, criminal justice and drug treatment because police and court resources would be freed up for more serious crimes.
For further discussion on this issue, you can watch an episode from the TV Series ‘Insight’ which aired on SBS on the 7th of October 2014, where our Principal, Adam Ly was invited and was a contributor.
If you have been charged with drug possession, call one of our Criminal and Drug law experts at 1300 595 299 for a free consultation.