October 24th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Labor proposes expanded role for infrastructure fund

CANBERRA OBSERVED Crossbench unity plugs Coalition water spill

EDITORIAL Deplorable attack on Sir Peter Lawler

LITIGATION Appeal to freedoms will not avail for Archbishop

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe generous in face of Middle-Eastern influx

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe's refugee crisis was much worse last time

CULTURE WARS The PC left is saving us from ... Tintin and Twain

SCIENCE AND CERTAINTY No safety in numbers as variable as these

EUTHANASIA Belgium, Netherlands in the grip of the small laws

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Marriage redefinition will feed government business

PUBLIC POLICY A wake-up call from land of rocky highs and lows

CINEMA Respectfully intended to make you laugh: The Intern

BOOK REVIEW Clearing the head


Books promotion page

A wake-up call from land of rocky highs and lows

by Peter Kelleher

News Weekly, October 24, 2015

In early October, Kevin Sabet PhD was in Melbourne for the annual conference of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre. His visit coincided with the Victorian Government’s announcement that it intends to introduce a bill into Parliament to legalise marijuana for medical purposes.

Dr Kevin Sabet

Dr Sabet is well known – though held in opprobrium by the usual pro-liberalisation suspects – in his home the United States as a campaigner against such liberalisation of drugs. Although still young (36), he already has vast experience in his field, having advised three consecutive U.S. administrations, those of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and is president of the lobby group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).

He was here to speak in particular about the U.S. experience with the liberalisation of marijuana use since several states legalised its use in their domains. In Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska marijuana use is legal, while some other states have allowed its use for legal purposes or have decriminalised its use.

While we contemplate playing with this fire in Victoria, the stories out of Colorado, for instance, allow us to see the blaze in its full incendiary fury.

These two headlines, for example, come to us from that state: “Too many high employees prompts company to leave Colorado”; and “Report: Colorado pot an ‘epidemic’ among kids”. This second headline carried the subhead: “Sure, we wanted it legalised, but didn’t think kids would want any!”

The first story, from 9News.com, recounted how one company, Little Spider Creations, which builds props and sets for museums and amusement parks, had upped stumps from Denver and relocated to South Carolina. Its problem had been its inability to find and keep sculptors who did not arrive at work high on marijuana.

“We went through 25 sculptors,” said company owner Marc Brawner. He said that when they were high, the sculptors were not as productive and had an “it’s good enough” attitude towards their work.

The crux of the second story, especially as expressed in the subhead, is a point that Dr Sabet emphasises. While polls in the U.S. seem to indicate that a slim (though falling) majority do support the legalisation of marijuana, when members of that majority are quizzed a little about the possible effects of legalisation in their own neighbourhoods and on their own kids, their support evaporates.

The article reports that 11 per cent of Colorado’s 12-to-17-year-olds use pot, 56 per cent higher than the U.S. national average. It also cites a 40 per cent increase in drug-related suspensions and expulsions from schools, the vast majority related to marijuana.

The culprit has been identified as the massive commercialisation and promotion of marijuana use in the state.

The article continues: “Some parents who use medical marijuana have complained that its packaging could look attractive to children. In one instance, a mother complained that her medical hash dose, called ‘Bruce Banner Wax’, was contained inside a colourful rubber bouncy ball from a vending machine.” Bruce Banner, we recall, is the alter ego of children’s favourite the Hulk.

These are the realities that when driven home to people cause them to think much less sanguinely of the issue. And these are the realities that Kevin Sabet insists we must bring home to our legislators here.

Dr Sabet said that we must put several questions to our politicians and insist on getting answers to them. We need to ask the Victorian Government how the scheme is going to work. Who is going to sell the medical marijuana? How much will a dose cost? Will there be a subsidies scheme? Will taxpayers end up paying the cost? What will the legal dosage be? Who will determine the level of each dose? What products will be made available? Will there be edible lollies, jelly babies, colourful bouncy balls like the “Bruce Banner Wax”?

Moreover, what medical support is available for the increased levels of use? Are hospitals beefing up their personnel for the probable rise in overdoses and younger users who will crowd their emergency facilities?

And most importantly, in light of the experimental nature of the proposal, what are the provisions for rolling it back? And who will determine whether the experiment has worked, at what stage and how?

Just as happened in the U.S., prior to legislation people are being softened up with the message that medical cannabis is for the benefit of the elderly who need pain relief for their cancer, or the child who requires pain relief that is unavailable any other way. But what is to prevent the massive marketing of marijuana to youngsters, as has occurred in Colorado, once medical marijuana gets the green light?

“Having lived with the results of Colorado’s legalisation since 2013, however,” Dr Sabet concludes, “it is the ordinary people now who seek regulation, not legalisation. They do not want cannabis stores at every corner, or pot ads along the freeways. They do not want their children stoned on chocolate bars.”

Ordinary people do not want these products. And we need to take notice of their experience before their tragedies are repeated here.

Dr Kevin Sabet is head of psychiatry and addiction medicine at the University of Florida and was a senior adviser in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2011.

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