What do Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and a 14-year-old boy from Morisset Park, NSW, have in common?

All have smoked cannabis.

But only the 14-year-old has ended up detained in an Indonesian immigration facility and may soon be on his way to Kerobokan prison in Bali. Just for the crime of smoking dope. Not only that, the anonymous boy is said to be likely to receive a lesser punishment because his blood and urine tested positive for cannabis.

If this does not make any sense to you, don’t worry.

Since it was introduced in 1925, global cannabis prohibition has been like a Ponzi scheme, built on ever increasing scientific fraud and irrationality.

Lester Grinspoon, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University, said: “there is something very special about illegal drugs. If they don’t always make the drug user behave irrationally, they certainly cause many non-drug users to behave that way”.

The idea of prohibiting cannabis around the world was agreed at the Second Opium Conference in Geneva in 1925.

Cannabis was not on the agenda for this meeting but the Egyptian delegation claimed cannabis was as dangerous as opium and should therefore be subjected to the same international controls.

No formal evidence was provided about the harms of cannabis, nor were conference delegates briefed about cannabis.

Nevertheless the delegates agreed to ban cannabis around the world.

Australia was represented at the meeting so Canberra officials then told the states and territories what they now had to do. The NSW Under Secretary of the Colonial Secretary’s Department wrote back to Canberra that the omission of that drug [cannabis] from the operation of the Act would have been of small moment, but having been considered by the conference as required to be included, it might perhaps be as well, if practicable, to bring it within the purview of the dangerous drug laws.

In 1937, Henry Anslinger, Commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, declared “there are 100,000 marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others”. Now you know. Authorities cannot prevent the inevitable, but they can delay them.

Fast forward four score years and global cannabis prohibition is starting to fall apart.

This week the 2011 results of the annual US Gallup poll were announced. Since 1969 respondents have been asked annually “do you support the legalisation of marijuana?”.

Opponents had always outnumbered supporters but the gap has been shrinking steadily, especially in recent years.

In 1969, 84 percent opposed and only 12 percent supported legalisation. In 2006, 60 percent opposed but 36 percent supported legalisation. In 2010, 50 percent opposed and 46 percent supported legalisation. This year, for the first time, supporters outnumbered opponents: 50 percent supported and 46 percent opposed legalisation. The Californian Medical Association also came out in support of taxing and regulating cannabis.

Australians do not seem to be big fans of criminal penalties for trivial cannabis offences.

In the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey of people over the age of 14 years, of those who have a view on the matter 67 percent opposed cannabis possession being a criminal offence and 69 percent supported the medical use of cannabis.

Maybe even senior Australian drug law enforcement wants to “break the business plan” of criminals, corrupt police and bikie gangs trafficking cannabis. The 1996-97 Australian Illicit Drug Report argued that: “…(cannabis offences) absorbed a significant proportion of resources dedicated to drug law enforcement. In addition, in contrast to most other illicit drug use, there appears to be a comparatively low rate of associated crime and harm to other individuals and the community.”

“The decriminalisation of personal cannabis use and production may greatly reduce both police and legal resource expenditure.”

A few years later the Canadians went even further. Pierre Nolin, Chair, 2002 Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs said: “we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the State much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalisation over decriminalisation.”

Even the World Drug Report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, commented in 2006: “either the gap between the letter and spirit of the Single Convention, so manifest with cannabis, needs to be bridged, or parties to the Convention need to discuss redefining the status of cannabis.”

It is often argued that the international drug treaties, which are the basis of what the Morriset 14-year-old is going through, are permanent, irrevocable and fixed in stone.

Don’t believe a word of it. In 1930 US Senator, Morris Sheppard said of alcohol prohibition: “There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.”

Just three years later, alcohol prohibition in the US was over for good. When laws lose the consent of the governed, police stop enforcing them and politicians eventually change the laws.

In the endless discussions of cannabis and the risks of psychosis and other mental illness, what is never discussed are the financial (taxes lost/raised) and other costs of cannabis prohibition.

We do know that (from a 1996 comparison between SA and WA) that compared to people who receive a smaller punishment for a minor cannabis “offence”, those receiving a more severe punishment are more likely to break up a serious relationship, lose their accommodation, lose their job, have difficulties travelling and feel very alienated from their community. But the severity of punishment makes no difference to the likelihood of rolling up another joint.

Cannabis prohibition is, surprisingly, quite like cannabis.

Both induce a mild euphoria and a distorted sense of reality. Both induce a tendency to talk rubbish in a meaningful way.

With both cannabis prohibition and cannabis, everything takes on an added significance despite the fact that nothing is really happening. But cannabis is widely regarded as relatively harmless while the long-term effects of cannabis prohibition are unknown.

So why does this nonsense go on and on?

Because Richard M. Nixon with the albatross of the deeply unpopular Vietnam war around his neck declared a War on Drugs on 17 June, 1971 and then went on to win 49/50 States in November 1972.

Politicians around the world realised being tough on drugs was a Magic Pudding for winning elections – a Viagra for aging male politicians worried about their electoral potency.

As for the young man now “banged up abroad”?

There is nothing we can do. Indonsesia is a sovereign country.We have to obey the laws of the countries we travel in.

We can only think: “My God, what if that had been my son?” and reflect on our own lack of compassion as we lock up scores of impoverished young Indonesians for people trafficking without even a debate on the subject.


Highwire debate: Should marijuana be legalised?


*Dr Alex Wodak is president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation. He is also director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, NSW. Dr Wodak works in developing countries on HIV control among injecting drug users. He has published over 200 scientific papers. Dr Wodak helped establish the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (1987), the NSW Users AIDS Association (1989), the Australasian Society of HIV Medicine (1990) and the Australian needle syringe programme annual survey (1995). His major interests include: prevention of HIV among injecting drug users; brief interventions for problem drinkers; prevention of alcohol problems; treatment of drug users and drug policy reform.


THE Australian schoolboy held in Bali on drug charges has been upgraded to a “cheap motel room” equipped with hot water, a sunlit courtyard and the likelihood of internet access, reports

“The 14-year-old, who had been held in the Denpasar police station for 19 days after he allegedly bought 3.6g of marijuana from a Kuta street dealer, has avoided a stint at the notorious Kerobokan prison,” says

“He was handed the lifeline after an intervention by law and human rights minister Amir Syamsuddin, who has close ties to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“He said after visiting Kerobokan, he realised that Bali’s facilities for juveniles need to be improved. ‘Yes indeed (the president has taken an interest in the case),’Mr Syamsuddin said. ‘But not only for (the Australian teenager) but all juveniles.’ “

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  • Reply October 24, 2011


    Is this guy an actual medical doctor? It seems that he’s quite flippant about the risk of mental illness (which can be very profound, as I have seen myself) & overly concerned about lost revenue through taxes.

  • Reply October 24, 2011


    yes, many things the god doctor says are factual and make sense, but i think we need to consider two further points.
    Firstly, articles like this imply that cannabis is a drug commonly used by many Australians. Whilst some Australians smoke dope, the percentage of people who reported using cannabis recently was only 10.3% in 2010
    source –

    So, I would like to remind people to beware of “normalising” dope and thinking of it as a common drug of choice for most Australians.

    The other thing to consider is that while many of us would not like to see cannabis users, especially the young, subjected to criminal convictions we also don’t support legalisation of marijuana. We all know of the chronic health problems caused by smoking cigarettes and we are learning more about the mental health issues that can be exacerbated by marijuana use for people with a pre-disposition.

    So, by all means think about continuing the trend to de-criminalize cannabis but not legalise. There is a big difference

    • Reply October 24, 2011


      The good doctor, not the god doctor, lol.

      I just ask people to consider this-
      What if someone came along now and they had discovered “tobacco”? It’s a product that makes people feel more alert and stimulates the nerves. It seems to be like strong caffeine. The producer can make a lot of money from it because it is addictive. Its growth and production can generate wealth for the whole economy. Sounds great. However, these days responsible governments have drug regulations. We would insist on research to prove that the product was safe, or in the very least had an acceptable level of harm. In the case of tobacco we would not legalize it once the health risks were revealed.

      So, it’s too late for tobacco, the horse has bolted. We can only try to discourage people and implement restrictions on its use.

      We still have that chance though with dope. Would doctor Wodac welcome the increase in bronchial disease and lung cancers if marijuana became a legal product?

  • Reply October 24, 2011


    I’m all for legalising marijuana on prescription as an adjunct to analgesia, but for widespread use? I don’t think so! I understand the problem we have now with criminal activity surrounding it’s distribution, but surely people must see that if it became widely available and cheaper than it is now that young people would be using it far more than they do now. Don’t try to tell me it would lose it’s attraction if it became legal – that hasn’t stopped them bingeing on alcohol or taking up smoking tobacco! And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that marijuana can be detrimental to the young, still developing brain even if the long-term physical effects are not available yet.

    • Reply October 24, 2011


      I agree Jenny, legalizing marijuana would take away one of the major disincentives for its use. It would also be a major store backwards for public health, especially considering the success our anti-smoking campaigns, taxation and legislation have had on reducing the numbers of people who smoke.
      Our percentage of adults who report that they smoke every day is now down to around 15%.
      Teenage smoking is also going down, see this link

      • Reply October 27, 2011


        Unfortunately the fact that grass is ILLEGAL is one of the attractions to the young.

        Legalizing gives control and takes out some or most of the criminal element.

  • Reply October 24, 2011


    This is a tricky one. I know people that smoke “dope” and I have to say I do think long term use alters the chemical balance in the brain and of course it does have all the down sides similar to tobacco i.e lung cancer etc.
    However I also know of people who are in extreme pain and use it for its medicinal uses and swear it helps.
    As it stands now the drug is extremely expensive and is lining the pockets of the petty criminals who deal it. It is also a drug of choice to a lot of unemployed people and like any drug, it is costly, and bites a large chunk out of their centrelink benefit. Which is OK if they choose this for themselves but if there are other family members such as children or spouses that have to miss out on basic needs because of their parents or spouses habit, it is extremely unfair.
    More effort should be put into helping those give up the “dope” habit and looking at why people start any type of drug to begin with. There are many people who smoke dope and would love to give it up but don’t know where to go or are too embarassed to admit they smoke marijuana to seek help.
    In the end it doesn’t really matter if it’s legal or not. It really only effects the price of it,and even then, if the Government think they can get the same price per gram as the dealers do, it will probably still be expensive. Maybe even more expensive!. If people want it badly enough they will get it no matter what!

  • Reply October 25, 2011


    Its the hydroponic Marijuana that seems to be the problem due to the chemicals that they put into the water to make it grow fast and that is why more and more people (especially youth) have mental health problems. Only home grown Marijuana needs to be decriminalized to stop the hydroponic houses popping up everywhere and if people want to smoke home grown marijuana they can grow there own – that way you are responsible and no one else is – as it is your CHOICE no one twisted your arm to smoke it! Also I must state that marijuana does not leed you to stronger drugs.

  • Reply October 25, 2011


    Yes for medical reasons use dope, otherwise you can choose to be a crimminal looser or or not. I choose not and any person who wants to be associated with me can choose to be in my life or be a crimminal. You can’t have both.
    PS I know of 2 regular drug user who have mental illness’s who more than likly wouldn’t have if not for illegal drugs, and 3 families introuble due to addicotion and I wouldn’t wish their problems on my worst enemy.

  • Reply October 25, 2011

    Wendy Harmer

    There is a great article on the Punch today that recommends listening to the experts.
    Dr Alex Wodak is an expert ( look at just a snippet of his CV here) that’s why I’m listening and why I asked him to write this article.

    • Reply October 25, 2011


      Hi Wendy
      If we could separate the legal issues from the health issues then Dr Wodac’s arguments make logical sense.
      The complication here is that we can’t separate the two issues. The evidence is in regarding the health risks of smoking- inhaling smoke into the lungs is dangerous to delicate lung tissue and transports chemicals into the blood stream where they effect the circulatory system and the cells of almost every part of the human body.

      Perhaps marijuana is less addictive than nicotine, perhaps dope smokers may not be compelled by their addiction to smoke every 20 minutes or so, however we need to acknowledge that most dope smokers inhale more deeply into the lungs than cigarette smokers and are more likely to hold the smoke in the lungs longer. In addition, cannabis doesn’t burn consistently on its own and needs to be mixed with tobacco to smoke it conveniently.

      Legalising dope would certainly break the “business model” of criminals but it would also take away one of the best disincentives we have to restrict the growth in number of users.

      Nicola Roxon explained in a speech just last week that the cost to Australias health budget from smoking is five times more than the revenue the tax in tobacco products brings in. Do we really want to consider adding another smoked drug and resulting health risks into that equation?
      Rant over, again 🙂

  • Reply October 25, 2011


    Prohibition successfully erased thousands of years of historical evidence regarding marijuana use from the minds of the public. Those with an agenda to push have been trying to justify it ever since.

    Hasn’t anyone else noticed how so many studies of marijuana use focus only on heavy daily users? One a few years ago looked at users who did five cones a day! I know many users and they all agreed this was excessive. It’s like studying the effects of alcohol by looking only at alcoholics and then claiming that the smallest level of alcohol consumption poses the same level of risk.

    The method of use ie smoking is a separate issue. The benefits are worth pursuing.

  • Reply October 29, 2011

    Carly Findlay

    A few months ago, someone I am very close to began to go through a tough time. He sought treatment for addiction and depression. I think I was one of the few he told. And I didn’t realise how bad things had become for him until I asked how he was. The bad things he told me, and the good, have sometimes been really hard to take. It was especially hard hearing he wanted to die.

    His mental state was exacerbated by constant use of marijuana – he used it almost each day for half of his life.

    I don’t support marijuana use.

  • Reply December 6, 2011


    […] Alex Wodak […]

  • Reply December 6, 2011


    I’m late coming to this talk but I did read the article when it first appeared on the site. Currently, I’m not against marijuna legalization. I’d just love even more unbiased information on it. It’s hard to find a Doctor like Dr Wodak who is willing to present a balanced view. Generally, articles in the media are extremely biased — against legislation of marijuana and often presented as being the trigger for serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and I’m not sure that is true. I used to smoke marijuana but gave it up after a couple of years because I thought it made me more anxious. There has been literature that supports the theory that marijuana also leads to anxiety/depression disorders. Now, many years later, looking back to childhood I can see I was always an anxious person and that perhaps the reason I liked marijuana is that for a couple of years I experienced relief from anxiety because of my use of marijuana — self medicating – but that possibly it eventually stopped working for anxiety and anxiety ‘broke through.’ just like many prescription drugs will stop working after a while. Much of the info on marijuana on the net is against it, too, although it has it supporters.

    I’d love to read more medical opinions about this emotive issue. Especially, I’d love to read the opinion of someone like Dr Goude (sp?) head of St Vincent’s Emergency Department, Sydney He and his staff get to see the more dire results of illegal drug use and I just wonder what his opinion would be. I’d also like the opinion of psychiatrists as well. Plus social workers and people who work with people living with the fallout of drug addiction. I just wonder how greatly marijuana features when no other drugs, including alcohol is involved.

  • Reply February 16, 2012

    Alberto Rosso

    Nobody in their right minds would encourage the use of any drug including marijuana – and alcohol for that matter.

    However the War on Drugs policies that have been implemented throughout much of th world has been a disaster.

    Portugal has implemented innovative decriminalisation laws which appear to be have positive effects.

    The web site of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is worth reviewing.

  • Reply February 16, 2012


    I am married to a verbally abusive alcoholic. I wish he’d have a toke instead of his drinks each evening and I’m sure life, for me, would be a hell of a lot nicer. Nicer for him, too, probably.

    Why isn’t alcohol made illegal? Probably because the great majority of Australians would scream ‘no’ and it would probably be the one thing that got them all moving to storm the barricades of the law makers protesting against criminalization of alcohol. So many Aussies drink, you’d think they’d understand that there are many Aussies that would like to have a smoke of marijuna and do it completely legally and be able to go to their licensed store to buy it just as anyone over the age of 18 can go to their local bottle shop to purchase alcohol and know that they are getting quality control of the product..

  • Reply February 17, 2012


    After living next door to a yellow faced Marijuana addict with the brain capacity of a 5 year old,I say…..Ban it!

  • Reply February 17, 2012


    My father was a violent, abusive monster whose brutality escapated when drunk, in the process damaging the lives of several people, very proundly. I, like Blue wish he had a tke instead.
    Let’s get some perspective on te way the law treat drug issues. So ofte a rapist or child molester will get a very scant sentence, a vastly lesser punishment than a person who was using ‘ drugs’ or seeling drugs to willing consumers.

  • Reply March 27, 2012


    As an Australian teenager I am surrounded by abusers of alcohol. Alcohol is proven to do more damage to you than using marijuana, but as mentioned earlier, can you imagine what would happen if the government banned alcohol in Australia?? We would turn a majority of the population into ‘criminals’ who would seek ‘underground alcohol’
    Is it even the governments place to make such a ban? It shouldn’t be up to the government to decide what we can and can’t do where it is a personal choice for many.

    People should be educated on BOTH sides of the story, then choose for themselves. Not be brought up on “smoking marijuana is definitely going to cause you serious bodily harm” (the ad campaigns never show the majority of people that ENJOY using it for some reason…)

    If there is such strong support for marijuana decriminalization, why are the punishments so severe? If it is on the edge of being made legal there shouldn’t be jail terms attached to it’s use?

    57, 000 arrests were made last year in AUS relating to marijuana, yet the leaders of BOTH major political parties have used it AND both are running the country!

    The whole ‘War’ is silly, stop mucking around and decriminalize it.

  • Reply April 5, 2012


    Good one Sean, it was great to read a post like your’s written by one of today’s teenagers.

    Dr Wodak was involved with the Australian21 report released on Tuesday as were a number of other prominant Australians including Bob Carr.

    Bob has posted a about his position which now must come through his Foreign Minister filter and you can read it here.

    Check it out.

    I commented on the blog and it’s copied below.

    hempanon permalink
    April 5, 2012 3:01 pm

    Your having a bob each way here Bob but let’s just leave it simple.

    I am a male baby boomer who has used cannabis for 40 years. I don’t drink, other than a glass of wine with dinner probably 5 times a week. I’ve never injected drugs intravenously. I’ve snorted cocaine twice and years ago I occasionally yielded to a dexamphetamine temptation if it was produced at a party. Way back in the day I took far to much LSD when we were all tuning in, turning on and dropping out but that was over 30 years ago.

    Since then cannabis has been to the fore in both my recreational and medicinal regime and I use it as a colleague might use a whiskey or two in the evening. My drug won’t give me a headache, in fact I’ve known it to make one go away as recently as yesterday.

    I want to be able to continue as I have lived for 40 years unmolested. I also want to be able to grow enough so that I know what is going into my body at a price I can afford and I want to be able to use it as a medicine for ailments that arise as we get older.

    Yes, the problem is filled with minefields but I don’t see my part in the saga as being a problem to anyone, even myself. So what needs to happen to turn my furtive illegal habits into what they should be, normal activities in my everyday life?

    That’s what I’d like to know Bob and fortuitously, the Nimbin Mardi Grass is being celebrated on the first weekend in May. I believe a couple of retired NSW politicians are attending and I’m sure you would be warmly welcomed. Doubtless you’d be hailed as a hero, especially if you could see a way to solve my problems with the failed war on drugs. You can be sure that there will be thousands of people there with the very same concerns as mine.

    Of course I understand why you might not be able to make it, haha.

  • […] Alex Wodak […]

  • Reply April 16, 2012

    Freja Leonard

    The mistake that many people make here is to suggest that repealing unworkable cannabis (and other drugs) prohibition leads to increased use and society condoning drug use. Each drug that is currently illegal has had use surge under prohibition – being illegal doesn’t stop people using, it just makes them criminals. It also creates a powerful financial incentive for black marketeers to come up with new and more addictive drugs.
    Endorsing decriminalisation – even legalisation – is not the same as endorsing drug use.

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