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.
*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 news.com.
“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 news.com.
“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.’ “