Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cannabis In the Media: Part Two

In our last blog we discussed the impotence of our politicians in canvassing cannabis decriminalisation. It appears though there is a trend that spreads past politicians into senior police and judicial figures. While we appreciate their contribution to the landmark Australia21 reports, why did it have to take Former Australia Federal Police Commissioner until he was retired to criticise our pointless war on drugs? Why was it only when they were no longer depending on their constituents’  votes did former WA Premier Geoff Gallop and former Federal Minister for Health Peter Baume take a softer stance on drugs? It is due to the inappropriate stigma around not only drug reform but drug users. To counteract this we here at Cannabis Isn’t Criminal truly think that the more major media personalities vocalise their passion for cannabis decriminalisation, the more un-stigmatised the notion will get and hence the more politicians are likely to actually progress the debate.

Yet there are already some notable figures who are making their voices heard. Let’s take a look at them.

Larry King would be the most recent media personality to voice his support for marijuana decriminalisation, recording this interview for the Huffington Post only last week. Over his many years hosting Larry King Live he conducted many interviews and debates on the topic of marijuana law reform, engaging such well-known guests on the issue as Mick Jagger and Willie Nelson.

Bill Maher is a fervent pro-marijuana individual, frequently bringing up the notion of decriminalisation and legalisation on his talk show Real Time with Bill Maher. Yet he does not stop there; he frequently speaks at pro-cannabis rallies and events, plus also is on the board for the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana in the US, a group which supports regulated legalisation. Bill is a man who is genuinely passionate for change and we think there should be more like him!

Seth MacFarlane not only injects his films (Ted) and television series (Family Guy) with pro-pot references, as seen here in the episode “420”, he is regularly espousing the advantages of marijuana reform on television chat shows with hosts such as Larry King and Bill Maher. As one of the most popular figures in entertainment (he has just been announced to host next year’s Oscars), surely his pro-weed material can help raise the issue’s awareness and popularity.

So what do you think? Do you think these men advocate the cause well? Who in Australia do you think should take up the baton and publicly support the decriminalising of marijuana? Let us know in the comments!

Advertisements

Cannabis in the Media

What do you think of when you think of the type of person who smokes marijuana? A stoner or slacker who lazes around his apartment all day? This is a very common perception of a marijuana user and it can very much be attributed to the media’s portrayal of cannabis users. Hollywood films Up in Smoke (Cheech and Chong), Pineapple Express and Dazed and Confused all contribute to a negative image of marijuana users, and with this comes a lot of negative reactions when the topic of law reform is brought up – who wants to help someone who won’t help themselves to a job anyway? This is the kind of representation that needs to be stopped and thankfully, those in various forms of non-fiction media are helping to undermine this backward perception of weed users.

That was a trailer for the new film House That I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki. This is exactly the kind of film we here at Cannabis Isn’t Criminal are dying for. The film highlights the endemic problems within drug/cannabis prohibition: that it targets lower socio-economic sections of society, causing a never-ending cycle of offending and incarceration. It goes on to stronger tangents of race and harder drugs that are not particularly related to this campaign, but it does illuminate politicians’ reluctance to act on drugs for fear of seeming ‘soft’. Greens Senator Richard Di Natale recently said

”I have lost count of the number of politicians who privately say to me, ‘we’re on the wrong track’ but stay silent publicly.” 

This is one of the systematic problems that has been built up by years of incorrect stereotyping not only in America but Australia as well: that being soft on drugs means you are soft on crime. This could not be more wrong and it is only through popular media that this misconception will change. In our next blog we will look at which media personalities are shaking things up one of the most powerful mediums there is: television.

Drug reform around the world: part three

The US has long been the world-leader in the redundant fight against drugs, ever since Richard Nixon famously declared it a “war” in 1976. Despite the last three US Presidents admitting to have smoked pot at some point in their lives, they refuse to budge on their hard-line stance against cannabis (a tad hypocritical, don’t you think?). Yet in spite of this, the US on a more local level is evolving. Only last year 50% of Americans stated that cannabis should be legalised[1], while fourteen states have decriminalised the drug and seventeen have legalised the drug for medicinal use. Three of these  states, Washington, Oregon and Colorado, will soon go to the ballot box to decide whether to completely legalise cannabis.

This is promising progress, but less promising is the obstinate attitude taken by the Obama Adminstration and the Drug Enforcement Agency towards drug trafficking in Latin America. Yet these bordering countries are now starting to diverge from America’s way of thinking: prior to the Summit of the Americas in April this year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared the drug war as failing,

“It’s been the same approach and the same policies, and where are we? This is what we have to ask ourselves. Are we in the ideal place? Or should we at least contemplate alternatives?”

Juan Manuel Santos. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Guatemalen President Otto Perez has also come out against hard drug policies, stating that as long as there is a demand for drugs in the US, drug trafficking will continue in his country.

Drug trafficking and its associated effects are no more evident than in Mexico, where in the past six years the country has experienced one of the worst periods in the nation’s history: since Felipe Calderon’s election as President in 2006, he has brought with him a military-led, hard-line opposition to drug cartels, who earn over half their profits from marijuana. This policy has failed dramatically, leading to unprecedented bloodshed and violence between Mexican drug cartels. Over 45,000 people up until 2011 alone have been killed, with kidnappings and beheadings a common occurrence in Northern Mexico today.

File:Drug-War Related Murders in Mexico 2006-2011.png

Calderon’s predecessor, Vincente Fox, president of Mexico from 2001 to 2006, stated last year that not only have Calderon’s policies failed, but that the Army, so prevalent on the Mexican streets now, has violated human rights and judicial due process in their prosecution of drug traffickers. He believes the US should legalise drugs so as to end the demand for illegal drugs and subsequently end the slaughter of so many of his countrymen.

So who do you think is right? Are the US Federal Govt and Felipe Calderon doing the just thing by targeting these drug cartels? Or is Vincente Fox and the handful of US states correct in accepting that drug use is a permanent fixture of society?

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Drug reform around the world: part two

Supporters of legalization of cannabis in Montevideo march toward the Legislative Palace in May as part of the 2012 Global Marijuana March.

Protestors in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, campaign for marijuana legalisation. Copyright Miguel Rojo/AFP/Getty Images

Following the lead of Portugal’s progressive stance on drugs is Uruguay, whose president José Mujica announced in the middle of this year that he plans to make marijuana production and selling a state-run industry. Cannabis has always been legal to smoke in Uruguay but the country’s Congress is now deliberating a bill which would make weed a public commodity. If accomplished, Uruguay would be the first country to do so, and would redirect the huge amount of money cannabis users give to the black market into public hands. How much money you ask? Approximately $750 million[1]. This money would not only fund treatment programs and clinics for addicts, but think of how many better roads, teachers and hospitals could be created with the additional money left over.

Not only will this bill, if passed, improve government revenue but it will also reduce violent crime, a trend South America is all too well-known for. Making illicit drugs a public commodity means users will no longer have to liaise with criminals, while narcotrafficking and gang-related violence will also decrease since the drug is available on a communal basis. The bill proposes a plan in which marijuana cigarettes would be available to people 18 years and older, and who would only be allowed to buy a certain amount of cannabis each month.

Another country administering a more sensible drug apparatus is Spain, whose ‘cannabis clubs’ are a slightly different system to that of Uruguay’s proposal. These Spanish clubs grow and sell weed to their own members, some of whom require cannabis for medicinal purposes, and others who simply enjoy getting high. Each member pays an annual fee as well as for each individual purchase, which is usually around half the typical street value, and each member can purchase up to 60 grams a month.

Spain has been in fact leading the way on drug reform for a number of decades: in the 70s their Supreme court ruled that, while trafficking was a crime, possession was not. The main focus was discouraging purchasing cannabis with the intention to make a profit. About ten years ago a Spanish court went even further, declaring that even possession of large quantities of cannabis was not illegal, so long as there was still no clear intention of trafficking. Since then the number of ‘cannabis clubs’ has multiplied astronomically, to the point where there are now there are over 300 around Spain.

It is systems like Spain and Uruguay’s, where there is no privatisation and no hulking corporations  looking to cut corners on production quality, where decriminalisation works. One of the Spanish clubs actually estimates that, if implemented on a wide scale, the ‘clubs’ could create 30,000 new jobs in Spain[2], at a time when the country is in desperate economic straits.

So which system would you prefer, Spain or Uruguay’s? Do you think it would work in your home town? Let us know in the comments below.

In the next blog we discuss countries with strict conservative stances against drugs: the US and Mexico.

Tagged , , , ,

Drug reform around the world: part one

As Australia continues its intransigence towards cannabis law reform, other countries are taking the lead and instigating decriminalisation measures with positive effects. The most obvious example of this is Portugal, who in 2001 decriminalised all illicit drugs. According to the British Journal of Criminology, in the decade since, teen drug use has decreased and HIV/AIDS-related deaths are on the decline. Adult drug use did increase, but not to the extent that it did in surrounding countries during the same time.

Alex Stevens, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent, who co-wrote the British Criminology report, emphasised the beneficial impact decriminalisation had on the state’s financial and judiciary resources, “They saved themselves a lot of money and stopped inflicting so much harm on people through the criminal justice system.” This is possibly the most pertinent point when it comes to the advantages of cannabis reform: the amount of money saved by the state and the taxpayer. Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nick Cowdery flagged this over ten years ago, stating in 2001 that prosecuting drug crime was “…costing time, it’s costing money, it’s costing lives, it’s achieving nothing other than creating more crime, which I then have to prosecute.”[1] Earlier this year he called for the complete legalisation of illicit drugs[2], switching the state’s role from punishing users to administering the country’s supply, in which case the revenue created would go into initiating drug support programs and addiction clinics. This is a point Stevens brings up in his report, “Releasing funds [from enforcement] allows you to spend more on treatment.”

Under Portugal’s decriminalised system, an offender does not face a criminal court but a small committee, made up of a medical expert, a lawyer and a social worker. They will not send you to jail but advise you on a treatment schedule or a support regime within the community depending on the circumstance of your offence, mainly whether you are an addict or not. Many who are deemed not to be addicted will often be released without penalty while addicts will often incur penalties such as losing one’s drivers license. Many people believed that the decriminalisation by Portugal would draw an inordinate amount of vagrants and party-seekers to the country, but this has not happened.

So how does that sound? Instead of having a permanent mark next to your name for smoking some weed on a Friday or Saturday night, Portugal’s system actually takes a realistic approach to cannabis use: that, when used appropriately, it isn’t going to kill you or do you significant harm. In the case of addicts, they are prescribed proper treatment or rehabilitation. I think all of us would agree that cannabis addiction is not a good thing – it can easily waste a young mind when used excessively. Yet Portugal has a system that targets addiction, hoping to rid it from the user. Doesn’t this sound like the kind of just system Australia should employ?

In the next blog post we will discuss two more countries with a progressive stance on illicit drugs: Uruguay and Spain.

Tagged , , , ,

Is Australia’s drug policy archaic?

Many countries around the world are advocating either the decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis, whereas Australia, like many Western countries, are refusing any sort of reform, thanks mainly to a misplaced sense of moral superiority. Earlier this year Julia Gillard stated that “drugs kill people, they rip families apart, they destroy lives and we want to see less harm done through drug usage”, yet if only she looked to other states, to other governments that have employed a rational perspective on drug decriminalisation, she would see that she is only creating more harm through her unjustified prohibition.

So first let’s take a look at Australia’s current system: parts of Australia, specifically the ACT, South Australia and the Northern Territory have introduced light fines for possessing small amounts of cannabis, while in Western Australia the punishments are still civil yet much harsher. New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland all still categorize cannabis possession as a criminal offence, while focusing on diversion and education programs for first and second-time offenders. Specifically, New South Wales has the ‘Cannabis Cautioning System’, introduced in 2000, in which an individual can be given two separate cautions by police if they are caught in possession of under 15g of cannabis, with any further offences resulting in criminal action. Yet this ‘cautioning’ system is misleading due to the fact that it is completely up to the discretion of the police officer as to whether to caution or not: if the police officer deems it necessary to criminally charge a first-time offender, he/she can do that.

These criminal measures are a part of a prohibition system which has plainly and utterly failed. Yet this is not coming from just this blog, this is coming from respected, prominent members of the Australian and global community. The Global Commission on Drug Policy in 2011 stated that “the war on drugs has failed”, and earlier this month the non-profit thinktank Australia21 released the final piece of their two-part report on Australia’s failing drug policies, deriding the current heavy-handed system, stating:

“…As much as we may deplore it, we must learn to live in a world where some young people use drugs. All drug use is not inherently evil. We would be off keeping the focus on reducing the harm caused by drugs and drug policy.”

‘Alternatives to Prohibition: Illicit drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians’, page 31

This is coming from a group that included former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer, Foreign Minister Bob Car, former Director of NSW Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, and more. All of these individuals have hands-on experience with the social impact of criminalised drug use, how it targets the youth, wastes taxpayers money and refuels the drug abuse cycle.

The report by the Australia21 organisation recommends a new system: decriminalisation of cannabis to anyone over 16 who is willing to be on a national, confidential user’s register, with the drug to be available in selected amounts from a state-approved supplier. Not only would this increase government revenue but it would also derail dangerous criminal behaviour that the current criminal system encourages from addicts. In the next blog we will discuss progressive movements by other countries who have taken steps to decriminalise and legalise cannabis, such as Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay, and how Australia can learn off the undoubted successes these policies have been.

Tagged , , , ,

Decriminalisation vs Legalisation

So  some of you who are new to this issue may be wondering, what exactly is the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation? Well that is a very appropriate question to ask. While both ideas push for leniency in drug laws, they are separate approaches with different frameworks.

In Australia it is illegal to smoke, sell, grow or possess cannabis, while the punishments vary from criminal to civil from state to state. Legalisation would mean to overturn this system where an individual would be breaking no law if they were to smoke or possess  marijuana. Similar to tobacco or alcohol one would be able to buy weed from a state-managed pharmacy or in a more privatised setting a local co-operative. Growing the drug personally would involve acquiring “hard-to-acquire-but-easy-to-lose” licenses, as suggested by the most recent Australia21 report . This is being conducted in measures around the world which we will delve into in later blog posts.

Decriminalisation on the other hand means that the process of possessing, growing, selling or smoking marijuana is still illegal, it is simply punished by civil penalties. This is similar to a speeding ticket, in which most of the offences are dealt with a fine. We here at Cannabis Isn’t Criminal believe that penalties for cannabis laws should reformed as the current criminal penalties that can be applied to young people can tarnish their professional and travel opportunities in the future.

Thankfully there are a number of Australian states that have already decriminalised minor offences, while the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme in NSW is a step towards fairness, but there is still the capacity to be criminally charged in NSW as well as a host of other states: Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria. We feel that these states, as well as the already partly-decriminalised South Australia, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory should implement full decriminalisation, in which fines are delineated to minor offences, while repeat offenders are subject to counselling and treatment programs to help them in their struggle against addiction.

Decriminalisation does not equal greater use among young people

Opponents of cannabis decriminalisation often use the argument that, if decriminalised, cannabis will become more readily available among teenagers. This has been one of the most successful points for those against drug law reform through scaring parents into believing that, if cannabis is decriminalised, their child will obtain cannabis on a regular basis and lose focus on their education. Yet a recent study from the US has proven that a softer stance on cannabis has no significant effect on the proportion of use of among young people. Researchers from the University of Oregon and Montana State University have found that between the years of 1993 and 2009, the 13 US states that legalised medical marijuana, including California, Alaska and Washington, found that after legalisation was introduced, there was no increase in marijuana use or the likelihood of being offered marijuana among kids at school.

The recent Australia21 study into cannabis use proposed a legal age of 16 to buy cannabis, which I am inclined to agree with. The fact is more than one in ten young people (12-17 year olds) already admit to having used marijuana at least once in their life (2010 National Drug Survey Household Report). Conservative thinkers like to scare parents into believing their child will become dazed, unfocused layabouts if decriminalisation is passed. This is wrong. The greater majority of those who access decriminalised marijuana will be those who already have an affiliation with the drug, and professional pharmaceutical advice will more than likely be reduced to an amount which still allows them to focus thoroughly on their studies. Or we could stay in the current system where our children have their futures ruined from a criminal conviction from a harmless activity. Cannabis is not Criminal.

Here’s a link to the study: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-06/uocd-ssn061812.php

Tagged , , , ,

What if this man had been criminally charged?

The most powerful man in the world, US President Barack Obama freely admitted during the 2008 election campaign that he inhaled, frequently, as a child. If he had been caught and criminally charged, he would not be President, it is as simple as that. The video below shows Obama talking about his recreational drug use as a young adult (skip to 0:57).  Do you think Barack Obama is a criminal? Does his teenage curiosity reflect his greater worth as a person? Leave your opinion below in the comments!

Tagged , , , ,

Welcome to Cannabis isn’t Criminal

Welcome to Cannabis Isn’t Criminal, a new campaign designed to educate and generate awareness of the need for New South Wales to decriminalise cannabis. For too long has the war on marijuana wasted police and judicial resources for a drug that a third of the Australian population has used, despite its illegality.

For too long have black markets profited off the desperation of cannabis addicts who, instead of engaging in dangerous criminal behaviour, should instead be visiting pharmacies where they can receive professional advice where their dependency on cannabis is reduced to a healthy, acceptable level through government treatment and counselling programs.

Decriminalisation should be brought it to counteract the intense destabilising effects a criminal charge can have on a teenager or young adult in their later professional careers. Many young people are having their livelihoods put at risk for a drug that is of minimum harm. The punishment does NOT fit the crime.

A variety of prominent Australian former judicial (NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nick Cowdery for one) and political figures (former NSW Premier Bob Carr) have for years called on the NSW Government to change their dated perspective of cannabis and follow states such as South Australia and Western Australia in introducing decriminalisation.

This blog plans to educate and illuminate the overwhelming benefits that decriminalisation will bring. Cannabis is not Criminal!