PM URGES NATION TO GET TOUGH ON DOPE
JOHN Howard has called for a crackdown on cannabis use, saying marijuana is linked to mental illness, and warning that decriminalisation has gone too far.
"Far from embracing further decriminalisation, authorities should be examining going in the opposite direction," he said.
"There is a higher rate of drug use among people experiencing mental health problems. When it comes to cannabis, the time has arrived for us -- legislators and parents -- to get tougher."
The Prime Minister said that while there was some debate about the specific relationship between drug use and mental illness, there was a consensus that people with drug problems had an increased risk of mental health problems.
"There is mounting evidence of the strong link between cannabis and mental illness," he said. "Cannabis use has been linked to health problems, with fears it can exacerbate psychotic illness and symptoms of schizophrenia, as well as mood swings, panic attacks, delusions, hallucinations and paranoid thinking."
He said governments needed to deal with the legal environment, and that parents "have to tackle their own and their children's habits".
Federal parliamentary secretary for health Christopher Pyne said he would be asking state and territory health and justice ministers, when the ministerial council on drug strategy meets early next year, to toughen their laws.
"There's no doubt that the decriminalisation of (personal use and cultivation of cannabis) sent the wrong messages to people about the dangers of cannabis, and I would like to see personally a re-criminalisation of personal cultivation and use of cannabis," he said.
"That's something I'll be discussing with the health and justice ministers at the ministerial council on drug strategy when next it meets."
Mr Pyne said the mental health problems caused by marijuana were costing taxpayers more and more money.
"Many of those people (affected) are being found to be heavy users of marijuana." he said. "In the end they are a major burden on the health dollar."
Mr Pyne said the current laws sent the message to people that marijuana was not much more dangerous than alcohol.
He has asked the federal Health Department to set up an advisory panel of experts to review the evidence that cannabis causes mental health problems and recommend action to the Howard Government.
"In South Australia when they decriminalised cannabis in the late 80s it did lead to a seeming increase in cannabis use," he said.
Mr Pyne said young people who had seen their parents take drugs such as cannabis thought it was not harmful.
"Those people whose parents used cannabis and whose children saw them using cannabis, there's plenty of evidence to suggest they feel that the example to them is that cannabis is not much worse than alcohol,"
Mr Pyne said.
"The response from the states so far has been disappointing, with many of them simply dismissing a review of cannabis laws but I hope community support might build.
"If something is bad for people and wrong, it should be treated that way."