Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Strong case for legal cannabis in Australia

THERE are many Tasmanians who grow, use and even sell cannabis.
They should not in any way be considered to be acting criminally in doing so because when it comes to cannabis the law is truly an ass with a capital A.
Cannabis should be able to be grown by individuals and businesses. They should have the right to sell their product to manufacturers and distributors, and pharmacists ought to be able to dispense it.
If this happened, thousands of Tasmanians who suffer chronic pain would not have to fear jackbooted police officers raiding their backyards.
And the cannabis which is not used for medical purposes ought to be available to those who want to smoke it.
Just as we allow alcohol to be sold via bottle shops and hotels, and cigarettes through any number of retail outlets, we should allow Tasmanians the right to buy cannabis.
The anti-cannabis brigade, which these days consists of gutless politicians fearful of right-wing media and interest group reactions, and a few police officers stuck in the dark ages on drugs, could not complain about the establishment of a regulated cannabis market. Such a market is a means of ensuring product quality control and taxation.
The California Medical Association, the doctors' union in that state, has recently published a paper on cannabis regulation. The paper's observations are applicable to Tasmania. For example, the comment that "unregulated cannabis continues to be easily accessible, often at low cost", despite the prohibition policies of government is something that we can safely say is the case in Tasmania.
The CMA notes that cannabis can be effective in the treatment of pain, nausea, anorexia and other conditions but it also observes that in the current unregulated market, which politicians sanction in places like Tasmania, the quality and supply issues are variable so that cannabis can cause addiction, memory loss, psychotic disorders and reproductive risks.
Because cannabis is illegal, medical researchers have great difficulty in working on programs to help enhance the positive effects of cannabis on users.
Politicians in Tasmania and other jurisdictions that refuse to allow cannabis to be classified as a drug like alcohol are, in the words of the CMA, perpetuating "the effective prohibition of clinical research on the properties of cannabis and [preventing] the development of state and national standards governing the cultivation, manufacture, and labelling of cannabis products, similar to those governing food, tobacco and alcohol products".
The research that is being carried out is producing promising results. The Daily Mail reported on October 7 that a team from Temple University in Philadelphia have released results of research demonstrating that cannabis stops nerve pain caused by a drug used in chemotherapy.
In fact it is downright bizarre that governments allow tobacco to be sold but not cannabis.
Scott Shane, of Case Western Reserve University, argues not "only does the government's approach make it difficult for people who need physician-prescribed marijuana to get the treatments they need, imposing pain and hardship, but the approach is also backwards. The government supports the sale of cigarettes, which cause cancer, but discourages the sale of medical marijuana, which is used to manage the side effects of the chemotherapy that these cancer patients must endure".
This state of affairs cannot be justified on health or broader public policy grounds. Further, there is an economic opportunity going begging because of the policy of prohibition.
There is an Australian market for cannabis as a recreational drug and as a drug of value in alleviation of pain.
Instead of spending millions of dollars in laughable prosecutions of people who grow, use and sell cannabis, why not use that money to regulate the market?
We do it with alcohol and, in fact, with all food and beverages -- despite the fact that alcohol and some foods cause us damage to our health if used inappropriately. Why should cannabis be treated any differently?
Tasmania, with its ample supply of land and water, is an ideal place for the growth of a legal and regulated cannabis industry.
We grow poppies in this state for the pharmaceutical industry and have done successfully for a number of years, despite security risks.
Why don't we do the same with cannabis when it so clearly is in the community's interests to stop prohibition and allow for the production and sale of a socially useful product?
The refusal by policy makers and law enforcement agencies to allow for the development of a legal cannabis market is based on prejudice and stupidity.
It makes no scientific sense and it condemns millions of people to a life lived in pain. Tasmania should become the first Australian jurisdiction to end this nonsense. 

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