24 October 2011

Legalising marijuana urged

The Australian Lawyers Alliance says one of the only reasons cannabis use is so high in Tasmania is because it is illegal and not treated by authorities as a health issue.

Alliance president and Hobart barrister Greg Barns said decriminalising the use, possession and sale of small amounts of cannabis would reduce the drug's appeal to young people.

"Most kids want to try dope. If it wasn't illegal, it would be less attractive," Mr Barns said yesterday.

He said cannabis use should be treated as a health issue, with offenders referred to a health or counselling service rather than the criminal justice system.

"I would say that 70 to 80 per cent of offences [before Tasmanian courts] have drugs at their base," Mr Barns said.

He said instead of spending enormous amounts of police and court resources on cannabis-related offences, money should be redirected to a service to provide lifestyle and health advice for cannabis users.

The call comes after the Australian Medical Association revealed that cannabis is a bigger long-term problem than alcohol abuse among Tasmanian teenagers.

AMA Tasmania spokesman Hamely Perry said teenagers were smoking pot to "self-medicate" and cope with social pressures.

Figures show Tasmanian teens are smoking marijuana on a weekly or daily basis to suppress depression and anxiety.

Findings from the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed almost 10 per cent of Tasmanian youngsters between 12 and 17 recently took illegal drugs, with cannabis the most popular illicit drug.

Ten per cent of Tasmanian teens who smoked marijuana said they did so once a week or more.

Dr Perry, of Moonah's Hopkins St Medical Clinic, said the consequences of cannabis use were greater than those caused by the misuse of alcohol.

He said a growing number of teens with mental health problems were "self-medicating" by smoking cannabis.

But he said mental health services were often reluctant to get involved with drug users, believing that simply stopping use would solve many of their problems.

Mr Barns agreed that cannabis use was primarily a health issue and the state would save money by treating it as such.

He also said that making the medical use of cannabis legal and allowing doctors to supply good-quality cannabis to patients for pain relief would "dim the supply of bad quality cannabis".

24 October, 2011
Sally Glaetzer
The Mercury

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