The marijuana legalization issue in Australia sparked a series of debates. Leading experts in drug policy on a continent believe that there is no sense legalizing only cannabis while other drugs remain beyond the law.
Professor Alison Ritter, who is famous for advocating decriminalization, insists that making cannabis legal is totally pointless if they do not do the same for the rest of the drugs. She believes that people have a lack of understanding of what changes this law can bring.
The debates about the marijuana issue started in October when the Federal government announced its plans to legalize growing marijuana for medical purposes by the next year.
Alison Ritter points out of how little people know about the decriminalization of drugs. Usually, people think that selling drugs legally will inevitably make others use the drugs more and, therefore, more people will be harmed. But existing evidence shows the opposite picture.
Just like the other pro-legalization advocates, Ritts takes Portugal and its successful experience of drug decriminalization as an example. The European country passed the drug decriminalization law back in 2001. Together with this, they also provided a system of preventive measures to reduce the harm caused by drugs.
During the next ten years, the number of drug addicts significantly decreased. The number of drug consuming young adults (15-24 years old), who are at the biggest risk of starting using drugs for the first time, has also been reduced.
Because of the successful preventive measures, Portugal has also got a significant decrease in the number of drug-addicted people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. They also have got a reduction in the numbers of drug-related deaths.
What should and can be done in Australia
Portugal’s example makes Australian experts say that it is senseless to decriminalize cannabis in the country if the government does nothing about the preventive measures. They do not believe that the positive changes in Portugal were caused only by the decriminalization policy: if they want to make medical marijuana legal, they also need to change the welfare system, and that requires additional debates.
Another thing that needs to be changed is prohibition policy. If the medical marijuana law passes, the policy will need to be reformed as well. In 2010, the Federal government spent more than a half (around 66 percent) of its 1.7 billion AUD ($1.24 billion) budget for law enforcement. The budget money was supposed to be used for “war on drugs.” And, just for contrast, only 32.6 percent of the amount was spent on harm reduction and prevention.
So much money on law enforcement, and such a little result. Ritter expects that concentrating instead on prevention and treatment programs and allocating more of the funding there can have significantly better results and, therefore, should be more valuable.
Alison Ritter believes that apart from improving the health state of Australians, the decriminalization law can also significantly lower the burden on the criminal justice system and police.
Problems on the way
Dr. Stephen Bright from the Curtin University School of Psychology believes that marijuana prohibition can lead to weed being replaced by a new synthetic substance that could be much more dangerous for human health than cannabis.
John Rogerson, CEO of the Australian Drug Foundation, thinks that the “war on drugs,” in the way it exists now, has failed to change the drug abuse situation in Australia. At least, it did not change it in a positive way. Drugs have become cheaper and, therefore, more available.
Australian police have also noticed that the changes about the drug situation in the country fell short of the expectations.
But the discussion of the drug decriminalization has yet another side. In most cases, people see using drugs as a moral issue. It is easy to think that everyone who uses any drugs, including medical marijuana, is a criminal. And that makes Australian politicians play the populist game of being tough on crime and drugs as if they were the same thing. They believe that supporting the medical marijuana law will make them look weak in the eyes of people.
The majority of Australians are quite conservative when it comes to drugs. Politicians are afraid to be innovative, to have an honest conversation about the drug issue. They find it too dangerous to discuss this subject. But it needs to be done. People will keep using drugs; there is no way so far to stop it. But it is possible to reduce the harm, and that is what Australians need to concentrate on.