Author: Trish Bolton
Note: Trish Bolton is a Melbourne writer and a tutor in media and
communications at Swinburne and Monash universities.
TIME TO THINK ABOUT DECRIMINALISING MARIJUANA
People who smoke pot don't belong to a subculture, they're part of the
Australians don't really need an excuse to have a drink but it's that time
of year where you can really drink up, indulge as much as you want; get
drunk, smashed, blotto - no one will really mind.
You can start drinking at the lunchtime barbie or picnic, down at the beach
or while you're watching the cricket; you can do it in front of your
parents and kids and with neighbours and friends.
But if you want to roll one, have a choof or take a toke, you won't find
the same warm reception at home, in your workplace or anywhere else. Unless
you're in Nimbin, you'll have to sneak away and do the deed in private.
And if word gets out about your nasty habit you'll be called a druggie when
your back is turned, families will talk in hushed tones about your wicked
ways, neighbours will ostracise you, and better pray no one tells the boss.
If this isn't bad enough, there's always the chance you'll be caught for
possession; you might merely be warned or you could end up before the
courts; it all depends on the state you're in at the time - and I don't
mean how stoned you are.
If you're in the Netherlands you can go shopping for cannabis but in
Australia buying it makes you a criminal, and growing it can land you in
prison for up to 12 months.
It's all a bit silly really - we encourage and condone the use of one drug
and demonise the other.
Sillier still is that we don't just allow alcohol, we push it, and we push
it very hard indeed. Marketing booze is big business. What's a sporting
hero without a magnum in hand, why have a celebration without alcohol and
what's sex without a little drunken abandon to add to its appeal? So
surrounded is alcohol by images of success, sexuality and good times that
we might as well pour it down the throats of the children we seek to protect.
Line up on a Friday or Saturday night at any bottle shop and you'll see
parents taking orders from their clearly under-age kids about what their
teenagers want for that night's drinking; these same parents would freak if
they thought their kids smoked marijuana.
It's OK to get out of it, what seems to matter is the substance we abuse to
do it. Who cares that hospital beds are filled with people who abuse legal
drugs and that more young people overdose on alcohol than are damaged by a
night's bingeing on marijuana.
But people who smoke pot don't belong to a subculture, they're part of the
mainstream. Hell, even Homer Simpson got stoned, Bill Clinton almost did
and Mark Latham admits to it. The groovy gen Xers in the successful
television show The Secret Life of Us regularly pass a joint and
advertisers often use drug parlance to market their wares; it's as much a
part of life as a having a VB or a chardonnay.
We use drugs for all sorts of reasons but mostly because they're fun -
that's why we've been doing it for thousands of years. Of course, it's no
fun at all if occasional pleasure becomes habitual abuse, but prohibiting a
substance won't change that.
According to statistics released by the Australian Institute of Health and
Welfare, one in three Australians used cannabis in a 12-month period;
one-third of the population is getting high, most of them aren't having
psychotic episodes and the majority are ordinary hard-working Australians.
This is not to say that marijuana doesn't have both short and long-term
side effects. Like all drugs, it does. But tackling those concerns in a
health setting rather than in a punitive legal framework will produce more
enlightened outcomes than have occurred with prohibition.
Let's bring marijuana use out into the open and liberate wardrobes of the
now ubiquitous "grow lights" to accommodate that other fetish - fashion.
Decriminalisation will have many benefits: backyards all over Australia
will be free to cultivate an organically grown plant or two, young people
won't be exposed to criminals, in what Access Economics have identified as
Australia's $4 billion blackmarket, and courts will be freed up.
In the end is there really so much difference between lighting up and
pouring a drink, or between chilling a wine cask in the fridge and
cultivating a plant in the backyard?
I'll kick back, have a drink, and think about it.