Australia has taken a bold step forward and illustrated that the push-back against marijuana prohibition is not simply restricted to the United States. Although not embracing cannabis in the same way as alcohol, the use of medicinal marijuana in Australia will make it more socially acceptable to be a weed smoker and will enable more scientific testing to take place. This step will enable further research information about the nature of cannabis to be generated and thus the prohibition of the substance will be lifted.
The vote to amend the Narcotic Drugs Act took place on Wednesday and enables marijuana to be used for scientific and medicinal purposes. The debate was framed around the experiences of Dan Haslam who had been suffering with terminal bowel cancer until his death last February. Haslam had been using medical marijuana to ease the pain and nausea that the illness had brought on, which technically was still a criminal offence. After his death his mother Lucy Haslam formed the pressure group United in Compassion which campaigns on making medical marijuana legal and, following the decision by the Australian Parliament on Wednesday, she has been successful in doing so.
This story is a heartwarming instance of how people have been politicised by their personal circumstances and make a positive difference in the world and these stories shouldn’t be ignored. However it is also worth pointing out that the Health Minister Sussan Ley has made it very clear that there will be no attempts made by the Australian government to change the legal status of marijuana as a recreational drug. This is profoundly wrong as there are thousands of people in Australian prisons who are there for marijuana related offences that are essentially functional members of society that have been incarcerated for no apparent reason. Of course there are very violent people who are drug dealers that have been imprisoned but legalisation will prevent others from becoming drug dealers.
In 1920s America the policy of Prohibition was introduced and alcohol had been made illegal. Despite this legal ban the demand for alcohol was so great that bootleggers became incredibly powerful, and, although some of these were local farmers who wanted to turn their excess grain into hard liquor, many more were in gangs. It is not a coincidence that the 1920s was both the age of Prohibition as well as the golden age of Al Capone and the Mafia. Furthermore, this policy made ordinary citizens who wanted to have a drink after a long day at work into criminals, and the policy couldn’t really be enforced as the police would have to go after violent criminals that provided the stuff as well as all the other criminals (rapists, murderers etc.) and normal people that dared to have some gin.
It is this same mindset that is at play with the marijuana debate and it is no surprise that people, especially the young, are looking at this attitude toward weed and demanding that it be reversed. In many US states weed has been legalised and it has been economically wonderful in terms of additional revenue and an influx of tourists coming in from other states. In the UK more liberally-minded parties are beginning to have an open discussion about marijuana legalisation, and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won the Canadian general election a few months ago on a platform that included legalising cannabis. There is a wave that is developing across developed nations about the nature of what the government should be doing, and time and time again prohibiting the recreational use of weed is not on that list