Marijuana law reform

An issue which I feel very strongly about, but which for some reason I’ve never blogged about before is the legalisation of marijuana. While I don’t advocate marijuana use, in my mind there is no moral justification for the criminalisation of marijuana for numerous reasons:

1. Marijuana has been systematically shown to be less physically harmful and less addictive than both alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legal. The following plot comes from Wikipedia (see article for reference), which shows affinity for dependence and the physical harm of many common drugs. Notice that marijuana is less harmful than both alcohol and tobacco on both axes.

2. If people want to harm themselves, this is a personal choice and individuals need to decide for themselves whether they are willing to accept the risks. This is exactly our policy on alcohol and tobacco, so why not for marijuana? Tobacco, which is consistently rated as more harmful than marijuana, including numerous fatal illnesses, is tolerated on exactly this basis – it’s a personal choice and people need to make the decision for themselves.

3. Marijuana use does not cause violent crime and anti-social behaviour in the way that alcohol, heroin and crystal meth do and therefore there is no moral justification for treating marijuana users in the same way as violent criminals by throwing them into jail.

4. The effects of jail are far more heinous than marijuana use. When you throw someone into jail you destroy their lives – their career, financially, their family, and you leave them with a criminal record, ensuring that they will never have a decent job again. This is far worse than the effects of even heavy marijuana use.

5. It’s totalitarian for a government to trot into people’s living rooms and tell them what they can and can’t do in the privacy of their own homes. This is on par with the anti-sodomy laws of countries like Singapore.

6. Studies have consistently found that legalisation of marijuana does not result in a noticeable increase in marijuana use. Most notably, a recent study in Portugal found that decriminalisation of marijuana did not lead to an increase in marijuana use. Additionally, Holland, which has the most liberal marijuana laws in the world, has lower teen marijuana usage rates than Australia, the UK and the US, all of which have relatively tough marijuana laws.

7. In recorded medical history there has never been a single recorded case of marijuana overdose. Experts believe that to overdose on marijuana would require smoking several kilograms of marijuana, which is impossible. Furthermore, marijuana does not cause physical dependence – heavy alcohol use does.

8. Marijuana has many proven medical applications, including in the treatment of eating disorders, depression, mania, bipolar disorder, anxiety and panic disorders, loss of appetite associated with chemotherapy or HIV medication, and pain relief. Before the invention of aspirin (which causes thousands of deaths worldwide each year) in the 19th century, marijuana was a popular and effective form of pain relief.

9. Education, rather than criminalisation, is the correct approach to discouraging marijuana use. This is what we do with alcohol and tobacco – every cigarette packet contains a health warning, and there are countless media ads highlighting the dangers of alcohol and tobacco use. In the last decades the percentage of Australians who smoke has been drastically reduced. It’s not because of criminalisation, but because of our investment into educational and awareness campaigns.

10. Legalisation of marijuana could potentially contribute billions of dollars to the budget if it were taxed in the way that alcohol and tobacco are. If this money were invested into education, rehabilitation and health, the benefits would be enormous.

11. By removing marijuana from the black market and bringing it above ground, organised crime groups would lose a major source of their revenue, reducing criminal activity.

12. We have spent billions of dollars wasting law enforcement and judicial effort on enforcing petty cannabis laws. Instead of wasting billions of dollars, why not gain billions in tax revenue.

In summary, I believe that criminalisation of marijuana is excessive, counterproductive and downright immoral. It is wrong to treat people as criminals for doing something in the privacy of their own homes which hurts no one other than themselves – marijuana use is a victimless crime. The Australian government should immediately reconsider its approach to marijuana in light of well established scientific and medical facts. The social, economic and individual benefits would be substantial.

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