Two million heads cant be wrong
Dr Alex Wodak believes the reason cannabis is a big issue in Australia is because it is in such high demand, with more than two million people consuming it.
In 1997, $5 billion was spent by people buying cannabis, twice as much spent by wine consumers, and because its illicit, its not taxed, Dr Wodak said.
If we can tax and regulate cannabis, then we could have health warnings like we do on tobacco, like smoking might cause schizophrenia; advertise help lines, so if people want to stop or cut down they can ring this number; restrict the age of sale, like alcohol, and not sell to pregnant women. We could use some of the income from taxes to pay for better prevention and treatment programs.
Dr Wodak has been the director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincents Hospital in Sydney since 1982. He is the president of both the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and the International Harm Reduction Association and has published more than 200 scientific papers. He will speak at the Nimbin Town Hall at 1pm on Saturday, May 3, as part of the debate about marijuana prohibition during MardiGrass.
Dr Wodak said that if cannabis was legalised, it could ensure people were aware how much tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, they were consuming.
At the moment there is no control over THC concentration and its a drug regulated by criminals and corrupt police, he said.
Inevitably where there is contact between black-market criminals and police there is rampant police corruption. If we want to get tough on police corruption and the cause of it, then logically the thing to do is to tax and regulate cannabis to take the black market away from corrupt police.
Dr Wodak said there was still more research needed on the links between mental illness and marijuana use.
A lot of people with mental health problems smoke a lot, but its a chicken and egg question, he said. There is no doubt some people with schizophrenia start to smoke more to try and control the symptoms.
There will be continued debate in the psychiatric fields about what can precipitate severe mental illness.
There is more support for the notion that cannabis use can exacerbate a pre-existing mental health condition. In public policy the onus of proof should be on maximum public safety.
Dr Wodak said he didnt put much credence in the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument that if marijuana was legalised, it would lead to more people taking hard drugs like heroin, ice and cocaine.
It doesnt follow, cannabis is a case on its own, he said. At most 200,000 people in Australia use heroin. Even when opiates were legal and available in Australia and sold in grocery shops, only a few per cent of people were interested, he said.
The argument that cannabis would open the floodgates is just nonsense.
Also, cannabis is readily available in 2008. If you sent one of your ace reporters to buy cannabis and another to buy pizza, which one do you think would be back first?
Last week Dr Wodak was in Vancouver, Canada, to address a conference on peoples experience with ice, or crystal meth amphetamine, in NSW.
He pointed out that studies done in countries where marijuana had been decriminalised had found legal change led to less consumption, not more. He also said taxing and regulating cannabis would separate it from drugs like heroin, cocaine and amphetamines.