Image source: The New Daily
By Giorgina McKay | @ggmckay11
The South Australian Government is seeking to quadruple the penalties for marijuana possession as part of its campaign promise to wage a “war on drugs”.
Those currently caught possessing or using cannabis without a government-issued license can receive fines up to $500.
The government wants to see the maximum fine increased to $2,000, and to introduce a maximum prison sentence of two years.
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said marijuana needed to be treated the same as other controlled and illegal drugs.
“The plan is to review and increase penalties across the board, from using to supplying, and reducing the opportunity to say, ‘well, I’ll have treatment’,” she said.
“We’re bringing it into parity [with other drugs]”.
Third-year UniSA student Ashleigh Piles agrees with the decision to review use in South Australia.
“I think it’s about time there are serious consequences,” Ms Piles said.
“If kids really want it though, they will find it, so I think we need to tackle the issue from the root to make it [the drug] not so easily accessible.”
Recent studies have found more than 2.1 million Australians reported using cannabis within the past 12 months.
Much of the illicit substance in these cases is home-grown.
Police claim this is feeding a multibillion-dollar cannabis black market that they are struggling to tackle.
“It’s just enormous, it’s a huge problem,” head of the New South Wales Strike Force Zambesi, Gus Viera, told the ABC.
“We have been raiding all these houses and I’m not sure we’re even making a dent.”
But despite having the Liberal party’s support, the proposed penalties are receiving backlash from the community, who claim that marijuana use should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one.
“It’s illogical and stupid that they’ve chosen to penalise something that grows naturally and has proven beneficial effects,” recreational cannabis user Aum Pandya said.
“Instead of telling people what to do and what not to do, the government should spread awareness and safe practices, and let the people choose for themselves.”
Dr David Caldicott, clinical lead at the Australian National University’s Australian Medicinal Cannabis Observatory, also questioned whether the penalties would decrease the use or harm from marijuana.
“We know for a fact introducing harsher penalties does neither of those things,” Dr Caldicott said.
“The likeliest scenario for [the penalties] purpose is to send a message to those who support these policies—it’s a form of virtue-signalling.”
The opposition’s long-standing argument against the drug has been that it leads to health problems.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said legalising a “gateway drug” would create physical and mental health issues for its users.
“The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented,” Mr Hunt said.
“We do not believe it is safe, responsible or something which should be allowed.”
The impact on people’s psychological health is something the public and the government need to become aware of, Ms Piles believes.
“…People who use it to band-aid their issues can become reliant on it, and their issues become worse and worse.
“I completely understand that this is a worst case scenario and everyone reacts differently, but I will always stand by my opinion of it affecting people’s mental health more than they are willing to accept.”
*Stephen Thaddaeus, a recreational and medicinal cannabidiol (CBD) user, disagrees.
“If you’re going to argue that anything causes health problems, it should be that tobacco does,” he said.
Mr Thaddaeus uses the drug on and off, but mainly uses the CBD to treat his mother’s osteoarthritis, which he said allows her to sleep, and to walk without pain.
“I believe the [CBD] can be used therapeutically.”
“When I’m in stressful situations, I take the CBD oil—which is three per cent [tetrahydrocannabinol]—so you don’t get the high, it just relieves anxiety and increases blood flow to the brain.”
The controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes under a national licensing scheme was approved under the Narcotics Drug Act 1967 in October 2016.
The Commonwealth Government is responsible for issuing these licenses.
However, while Mr Thaddaeus is a firm believer in the benefits of the plant, he understands it is not perfect.
“It’s like a glass of beer or wine; it’s the equivalent to the danger of light alcohol.
“Of course you shouldn’t use it irresponsibility (i.e. smoking and driving), but it is harmless.
“It’s the only drug that tells you to get off it—you literally get sick of it—whereas tobacco, for me, was so hard [to quit] compared to marijuana.”
Tobacco is the leading cause of death in both men and women in Australia.
National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre Professor Louisa Degenhardt told the Daily Telegraph tobacco-related deaths were accounted at 11.7 per cent.
In comparison, illicit drug use was only 1.3 per cent.
“Marijuana is a very fascinating plant and doesn’t deserve the criticism it receives,” Mr Pandya said.
“Caffeine, sugar, tobacco, alcohol and nicotine are all drugs that are legal.
“Heavy use of either of these can cause health problems far more adverse than marijuana and can even be fatal.
“It’s a matter of being smart about what you consume, and knowing the difference between use and abuse.
“The general public should educate themselves and form an opinion based on facts, and not from what social media or news claim it to be.”
The proposed penalties will be debated in parliament within the coming week.
*Name has been changed to protect the anonymity of the participant.