Western liberal democracies appear to be dropping like flies when it comes to legalising cannabis for recreational and medicinal use. It is legal for recreational use in a number of countries and states around the world, including Canada, South Africa, Uruguay and 21 states of the US. cannabis is also legal for medicinal use in many more places around the world, including where it is legal for recreational use.
In February 2016, the Australian Government amended the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to allow cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes, under a national licensing scheme. In January 2020, cannabis was decriminalised in the ACT for possession of up to 50 grams for personal use, and two plants per person (four per household).
The push for the legalisation of cannabis for recreation is not surprising. Alcohol is legal, and is viewed by many experts to be far more harmful to the individual and to society than cannabis. For example, scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder conducted a review of existing imaging data to examine the effects of alcohol and cannabis on the brain. They found that alcohol consumption was associated with long-term changes to the structure of white and grey matter in the brain, while cannabis use did not seem to have any significant long-term effects on brain structure. Rachel Thayer, the lead researcher from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her team published their findings in the journal Addiction.
In the Bible, the story goes that Jesus turned water into wine thereby condoning its use among societies with moral and legal notions based in Christianity. Wine was used in the earliest celebrations of the Lord's Supper. Paul the Apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 10:16
“The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread.”
According to some scholars, Jesus turned water into wine as his first miracle to demonstrate his powers over all things, including the most fundamental level of matter – the atoms. This ability to alter matter can only be exercised by the Creator. This miracle, recorded in John 2:11, served to further reveal Jesus' glory and strengthen the faith of His disciples.
It appears that the decision to turn healthy water into a potent drug was somewhat arbitrary. So what would Western society be like if Jesus had turned oregano into Pot? Rather than a cracker and a glass of sacramental wine, would devotees have had a holy joint and a slice of pizza? Many consider the demonising of cannabis in favour of alcohol to be somewhat strange when you consider the statistics on alcohol influencing crime, antisocial behaviour, and even child abuse.
Alcohol is a major contributor to criminal activity and violence. When people drink excessively, it can reduce their inhibitions, impair their judgement, and increase their risk of aggressive behaviour. As a result, alcohol-related violence and crime rates have been increasing in the country. Studies conducted over the past few decades have investigated the link between alcohol, and crime. The data indicates that engaging in prolonged or binge drinking significantly increases the chances of committing violent crimes.
Stress, financial difficulties, and professional instability are just a few of the factors that can contribute to alcohol abuse. However, alcoholism not only impacts the individual struggling with the addiction, but also their family and friends, including children. Research has shown that there is a connection between parents who abuse alcohol and the risk of child neglect and abuse. Approximately 40% of child abusers admitted to being under the influence of alcohol when the abuse occurred.
The evidence of alcohol exacerbating crime, domestic violence and child abuse is widely proven. However, the connection between cannabis use and this type of activity has not yet been conclusively established either way. Despite cannabis being used by 48.2 Million people at least once in the United states in 2019, cannabis does not have anywhere near the same reported impacts on society as alcohol.
Is Western Australia sensible for continuing to outlaw cannabis, or just behind the times? Should we be adding extra ways for people to legally become intoxicated? Or should we be heading in the opposite direction by moving the culture away from harmful legal drugs such as alcohol and nicotine?
cannabis is currently illegal in Western Australia. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, it is a crime to cultivate, possess, sell, or supply cannabis in Western Australia. The possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use is generally treated as a less serious offence, and may be punishable by a fine or community service. However, the cultivation, possession, sale, or supply of larger amounts of cannabis can result in more severe penalties, including imprisonment and the seizure of assets.
What West Aussie’s Think
There have been a number of polls conducted in Western Australia to assess public opinion on the issue of recreational cannabis legalisation. The results of these polls have been mixed, with some indicating that a majority of Western Australians support recreational cannabis legalisation, while others show less support.
For example, a 2019 poll conducted by the Western Australian Government found that approximately 46% of Western Australians support the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use, while approximately 53% oppose legalisation. A 2020 poll conducted by the Western Australian Council of Social Service found that approximately 60% of Western Australians support the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use, while approximately 40% oppose legalisation.
It appears that there is an appetite among voters to legalise cannabis for recreation in WA. In the 2021 Western Australian state election, the Legalise Cannabis Western Australia Party ran candidates for the first time and gained two seats in the Legislative Council, receiving the fifth largest number of votes by party (26,818). In the Legislative Assembly, the party ran a limited number of candidates and received 4,996 votes. In terms of representative democracy, this election shows Western Australians voting on the issue of cannabis with their feet. However, it is understood that the election wins were partially the bi-product of the way big parties structure their preference votes.
In June 2022, the two elected representatives from Legalise Cannabis WA proposed allowing West Australians to possess 50 grams of cannabis and households to grow four plants. These are the same amounts decriminalised in the ACT. Our premier indicated that the government, with its control of both houses, will block the bill when it is introduced to parliament in 2023.
“Having freely available cannabis is not our policy,” he told ABC radio. “They’re just proposing everyone can grow it wherever they want. That’s not what we’re doing. It’s just not an issue I want to deal with at this point in time.
With the current climate of politics, it appears that recreational cannabis will not be legalised or decriminalised anytime soon. With public opinion on the issue evenly split, there is little impetus for progress. This is somewhat difficult for citizens to swallow. An action is only a crime if you are standing in the wrong part of Australia.
To Smoke or Not to Smoke? Libertarian Perspective
The question of whether cannabis should be legalised is a complex and controversial one, and there are valid arguments on both sides of the debate. Australians in favour of the legalisation of cannabis tend to expound the libertarian argument, which essentially boils down to: if I am not hurting anyone else, it is no one’s business what I do. Those who call WA a “nanny state” tend to hold some libertarian ideals.
Personal liberty: Libertarians generally believe that individuals should have the freedom to make their own choices about how to live their lives, as long as they are not harming others. They argue that the use of cannabis is a personal matter that should not be subject to government regulation or interference.
Economic freedom: Libertarians often argue that the legal regulation and sale of cannabis would provide economic benefits, including the generation of tax revenues and the creation of new jobs in the legal cannabis industry. They argue that these economic benefits would help to support a more free and prosperous society.
Personal responsibility: Libertarians generally believe that individuals should be held responsible for their own actions and decisions, including their decision to use cannabis. They argue that the legal regulation of cannabis would provide a safer and more controlled environment for individuals who choose to use cannabis, and that it would allow for the development of effective prevention and treatment programs for those who may be at risk of developing cannabis-related problems.
Potential Negatives of Legalisation
cannabis is a psychoactive substance that is made from the Cannabis plant. It is commonly used for recreational and medicinal purposes, but it can also have potential risks and negative effects on health and social effects.
Legalisation could create conflicts with existing laws and regulations, such as workplace drug testing policies. Additionally it could lead to increased accessibility and exposure to cannabis, particularly for children and young people.
Here are a few potential health risks of cannabis use:
Impaired cognitive function: cannabis can affect a person's ability to think, remember, and learn, and it can impair their judgement and coordination. This can increase the risk of accidents, injuries, and other negative consequences.
Addiction: Some people who use cannabis may develop an addiction to the substance, which can lead to significant negative impacts on their personal, social, and professional lives.
Mental health problems: Some people who use cannabis may experience an increased risk of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and psychosis.
Respiratory problems: Smoking cannabis can damage the respiratory system and increase the risk of respiratory infections, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems.
Cardiovascular problems: Some studies have suggested that cannabis use may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke.
It is important to note that the potential risks and negative effects of cannabis use may vary depending on the individual, the method of use, and the specific characteristics of the cannabis being used. Additionally, the potential risks and negative effects of cannabis may be influenced by other factors, such as the person's age, overall health, and personal and family history.
Outcomes of Legalising cannabis
The outcomes of cannabis legalisation are complex and multifaceted, and vary depending on the specific laws and regulations that are put in place and the characteristics of the place where cannabis is legalised. Here are a few potential outcomes that have been observed in places where cannabis has been legalised:
Increased tax revenues: Some places that have legalised cannabis have seen an increase in tax revenues from the sale of cannabis. This can provide a financial benefit to the government and can be used to fund a variety of programs and services.
Decreased arrests and incarceration rates: In some places, cannabis legalisation has been associated with a decrease in arrests and incarceration rates for cannabis-related offences. This can reduce the burden on the criminal justice system and may improve social and economic outcomes for individuals who have been disproportionately affected by cannabis laws.
Increased cannabis use: In some places where cannabis has been legalised, there has been an increase in cannabis use, particularly among young people. This can have potential negative consequences on public health and safety, including increased risks of addiction, impaired driving, and other negative outcomes.
My Personal View
Some say that the legalisation of recreational cannabis would create a gateway effect to other drugs. I think when a teenager steals dad’s bottle of Jack Daniels and experiences the wonderful uninhibited high of alcohol for the first time, the gateway has been opened. Teenagers get drunk for the first time and conclude: That was fun, what else can I try? Getting “f@*cked up” is normalised by pubs, nightclubs and bottle-shops being everywhere. Practically every leisure activity in our society, from watching sport, fishing, to eating a meal anywhere, etc is associated with a powerful drug that makes people angry, boisterous and dangerous drivers. Alcohol is even advertised and glorified on television. Young people associate getting heavily intoxicated with having a great time. I have heard friends say, “It must have been a great night, I can’t remember any of it!”
Compared to Methamphetamines, Fentanyl, and potentially tainted party pills, cannabis is far more safe. One could argue that putting cannabis in the same category as these dangerous drugs creates more of a gateway. Once you cross into illegality, it all seems the same. Making cannabis legal may have the effect that some young people will stick to only the legal highs. Of course, there will always be others who go down the rabbit-hole of dangerous behaviour and illicit substances. I am just not convinced that legalising cannabis for recreational use would make the “gateway” effect worse when you consider how ubiquitous alcohol and getting drunk is. I have been assaulted by drunken idiots more than once, but never by a pothead.
With a tendency to the libertarian way of thinking, I don’t like the idea of the government telling me that I am not allowed to smoke cannabis if I want to. The idea of being incarcerated for smoking a plant that helps me understand Pink Floyd is absurd. That being said, I am worried about the effects of legalising it and my teenage children getting into it far too young. Everyone grew up knowing that one kid who was always stoned and checked out of life too early. No one wants their child to become a “burnout”.
To make it more complicated, there is also the argument that cannabis can have non-medical, but therapeutic effects. Some use it to relax on Friday night, or claim that it helps with their insomnia. Some users report that sensible usage helps with their mental health.
If it is made legal, it will be much easier for teenagers to acquire. However, is it really that hard for them to get it now? From about the age of fourteen up until the end of university, I knew various people who could “hook me up” if I wanted to track down some weed. These weren’t always the safest of places to visit. Furthermore, I heard some scary rumours about the cannabis plants being sprayed with hazardous chemicals like Baygon to make the effects stronger. Or “snow cones'' where the cannabis is dusted with amphetamines. A regulated industry would be far safer in this respect.
The debate about the legalisation of recreational cannabis is highly polarised (pun intended). There is some evidence to suggest that cannabis can give an otherwise healthy but vulnerable person a mental illness such as schizophrenia. Others believe that it can make you slothful and disinterested in life. Some ask, we already have to contend with the negative effects of alcohol, why would you add more poisons that undermine society?
On the other hand, there are plenty of adults who would love to legally be able to have a joint and watch the New Years fireworks. Or eat a pot brownie and rewatch The Matrix. Libertarians say that if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, I will do what I want. I myself would rather the resources of the police be directed to protecting domestic violence victims than worrying about people growing or smoking cannabis.
It appears that the current government holds all of the cards. They don’t want to legalise or decriminalise cannabis. It could upset the apple cart. Changing anything risks damaging their total dominance over the State. The strict control over our lives during Covid lockdowns concreted his total victory at the 2021 election.
At the next State election, the conservatives will need something drastic to win back a heap of seats. Maybe a promise to legalise cannabis for recreational purposes is a gamble they will make. It would certainly redirect the votes of a decent percentage of the voters, but it would also alienate a number of conservative voters. In the last decade, national support for legalising has increased by 16%. If trends continue, it appears that cannabis will eventually be legalised in WA, but it will take the upheavals of election promises to make it happen.