The latest front on the war on drugs is synthetics, Grant Wyeth explains his radical proposal to solve it — legalising marijuana.
FOLLOWING THE DEATH of Sydney teenager Henry Kwan in June, there was significant discussion in the press and from politicians concerning the impact synthetic drugs.
Most of the discussion concerned how we can either regulate these substances further, or make them illegal. However, the elephant in the room is why they exist in the first place.
If we look specifically at synthetic cannabinoids – the most common of these drugs – the answer is easy access.
The allure of synthetic cannabinoids is that they provide a 'marijuana-like high' that can be purchased over the counter. For most people, the safety and trust you receive from a retailer is far greater than that you would get from your neighbourhood drug dealer. There are no consumer protections on the black market and drug dealers don't issue receipts or guarantees.
This is the market that synthetic drugs fill. While there may be safety in their purchase, anecdotal evidence suggests regular consumption can lead to psychotic episodes, with potential for other long-term harmful effects.
There is one option – yet to be discussed – that would put a large dent in the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, and eliminate a great number of other social ills along with it. The legalisation of marijuana.
While movement has recently been made in this area in the United States, politicians here still pander to the “wowser” element in our society. Manipulative tabloid hysterics are scarier to our politicians than the drug lords, violence, massive public expenditure, and now the more dangerous substances, that prohibition creates.
Any first-year university economics student can tell you how and why black markets form and flourish. Demand will always be supplied somehow. The market will find a way around any government roadblocks. Frequently this is achieved through violence.
Now the market has found an outlet in unscrutinised and potentially more dangerous legal products like synthetic drugs. These lessons should have been learned from the period of alcohol prohibition in the United States 80 years ago.
It makes any attempt to portray the prohibition of marijuana as a moral law completely laughable.
During his presidency of Mexico from 2000 – 2006, Conservative politician Vicente Fox, used military force to try curb drug cartels. However, he has subsequently stated that:
“...violence, crime and drugs can be solved by legalising drugs. Trying to solve it with repression or violence just fosters more violence.”
Fortunately, we don't have the problems with drug cartels that Mexico has, however we should pay very close attention to their front-line experiences. Especially the words of political leaders who have exhausted their policing options and who now advocate legalisation as by far the least harmful method to their societies.
With The Netherlands having legalised marijuana, Portugal having decriminalisation, and now Colorado and Washington State in the US recently legalising the plant, we in Australia have some solid models to work with to pursue a similar path.
The measures taken by these jurisdictions were not to encourage people to use drugs, but to curb the negative effects that suppressing a market creates.
Aside from these negative effects, making marijuana illegal has also cut us off from a whole range of industries that the plant is useful for. Hemp fabric is warmer and more durable than cotton. It requires much less water to grow and can make paper, rope, canvas and even construction materials.
Despite Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, and recently New South Wales allowing small quantities of the plant to be grown for these industrial usages, we are still far from realising its potential.
Instead of just costing us large amounts of money through law enforcement, marijuana prohibition is also preventing potentially large and more environmentally sustainable industries from flourishing. Not to mention gathering significant tax revenues.
Of course the tabloids and shock jocks will have a great time proclaiming our social decay. But politicians need to have the nerve to stand up to these manipulative bullies and explain that this is about smashing the businesses of drug lords, ending the violence that swarms around black markets. It’s about drastically reducing the massive public expenditure and resources dedicated to its suppression. As well as now curbing the trade in synthetic drugs.
Despite the Senate ballot at the coming election potentially containing close to 50 parties, there will be only two parties that advocate the legalisation of marijuana: the one issue HEMP (Help End Marijuana Prohibition) Party, and the libertarian Liberal-Democrats.
This is a reasonable indication of the lack of political will surrounding this issue. It is an odd state of affairs when nullifying drug lords, curbing violence and harm, and reducing unnecessary public spending are not seen as vote winners.
While libertarian purists would advocate a free-market approach, the first steps should probably be through a government monopoly. This is similar to the way alcohol is sold in Sweden.
It initially regulates quantities and doesn’t allow drug lords to simply legalise their operations and use them as a cover for other substances.
Eventually, trade should be opened up to private enterprise.
In time, marijuana should be treated in a similar fashion to alcohol, with adults given the freedom to consume as they please. They are also given the responsibility to face the consequences of any anti-social behaviour that arises from its consumption.
Contrary to what prohibition advocates claim, the cultural taboos that apply to alcohol would still apply to marijuana — driving while affected would be illegal, and turning up to work stoned would be considered as unprofessional as doing so drunk.
Politicians love standing in front of cameras using stern voices to proclaim they are doing what it takes to curb the harm that can be caused by unknown synthetic drugs. Yet none of them have the gumption to use a calm, rational voice to explain how the problem can be minimised – and many others along with it – through ending the prohibition of a substance like marijuana.
The evidence is on the table, most of them are well aware of it, but which one of our publicly funded heroes has the dignity and public interest at heart to push for its implementation?
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