28 February 2015
Hemp (Cannabis sativa) arrived in Australia with the First Fleet at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, who marked the cargo 'commerce' in the hope that hemp would be produced commercially in the new colony, growing enough to supply the British Navy with rope! For 150 years, governments in Australia actively supported the growing of 'industrial hemp' with gifts of land and other grants.
The first Australian drug law was an Act imposing an import duty on opium, the primary purpose of the law was to discourage entry of Chinese into Australia, rather than to restrict the importation of opium itself. These first laws were carefully worded to apply to opium in smokable form only, not opium as taken by the European population. Australians in the nineteenth century were among the world's biggest consumers of opiates in patent medicines, most contained alcohol, morphine or both. Laudanum (opium and alcohol) was taken regularly by adults and children to calm them! Cannabis was not consumed on a large scale (although it was readily available for sale as cigarettes called 'Cigares de Joy' until the 1920's)
Australia signed the Hague International Opium Convention on narcotics (well over 100 narcotic drugs were controlled under the Convention) and extended importation controls over drugs other than opium.
The Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs imposed restrictions on the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, exportation and use of cannabis, opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin allowing for medical and scientific purposes only, despite the fact that cannabis use as a medication was rare in Australia at the time.
Cannabis importation and use was prohibited by the Australian Commonwealth Government with federal legislation implementing the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs.
Australian state of Victoria enacts Poisons Act and becomes the first state to prohibit the use of cannabis; other Australian states followed suit slowly over the next three decades.
South Australia prohibits the use of cannabis.
New South Wales prohibits the use of cannabis.
Queensland prohibits the use of cannabis.
The Australian Commonwealth Government extended import restrictions on 'Indian hemp', including preparations containing hemp.
Western Australia prohibits the use of cannabis.
Tasmania prohibits the use of cannabis.
Before the 1960's
Drug use was not completely unknown, but dependent drug use was typically the result of the use of opiates after first using them for medical reasons. There were drug dependent doctors (and their wives) and a small bohemian subculture that used drugs. Many Australian arrests for drug offences involved visiting jazz musicians!
Australia signs the International Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This convention supports an obligation to make cannabis available as a medicine. Most current State and Federal cannabis control Acts in Australia are in contradiction of this.
Throughout the 1960's
Emergence of the concept of 'recreational' drug use, the consumption of cannabis, heroin, LSD and other psychoactive drugs for pleasure or spiritual enlightenment occurred for the first time, and in Australia, drug use became widespread, if not mainstream, rather than an activity pursued by a few painters or poets. The official response was increased law enforcement, and legislative change to extend the range of offences and increased penalties for drug offences.
The Vietnam War contributed to the significant increase in drug consumption in Australia with US soldiers on 'rest and recreation' leave creating a market for cannabis and other illicit drugs and providing a glamorous example for the locals. The 'old' Australian drug laws were mostly under the various state Poisons Acts, reflecting an underlying approach of regulation and control of medicinal substances, with potentially addictive drugs legally available only on a doctor's prescription.
All the states had enacted 'new' drug laws introducing a distinction between use, possession and supply offences. Penalties for possession and use increased and very substantial penalties were introduced for drug supply, especially supply of large quantities ('drug trafficking').
The Federal and State Governments adopted a National Drug Strategy which included a pragmatic mixture of prohibition and a stated objective of harm reduction. Harm reduction has been an official part of Australian drugs policy ever since, although most resources by far are devoted to policing and border patrol attempts at interdiction ('supply reduction'). In all states, the impact of prohibitionist laws on drug users is somewhat modified by a number of diversion programs, diverting some eligible users from the criminal justice system to cautions or treatment.
26 February 2015
How much do we spend fighting drugs in Australia?
The Australian government spends about $1.1 billion enforcing illicit drug laws every year. Most of this is spent at a state level, funding the police force and supplying prison services to low-level drug users. Another chunk of that money is spent by federal police.
The United States spends about $500 per second fighting the war on drugs. One commonly cited statistic is that the US spent over $1 trillion on cracking down on drugs in the last four decades.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2010 $1.05 billion worth of crystal meth was sold on the black market. The profit margin? An estimated $1.03 billion. And that’s just one drug. The Sydney Morning Herald estimates that if we were to regulate drug sales through a legal market, we could save almost $5 billion a year by cutting down the funding to police and prisons and by raking in the taxes. Since the 1980's, Australia has spent about a third of its $1.7 billion-a-year drug budget on preventive measures such as drug treatment, and needle exchange programs.
Has the war on drugs achieved any of its goals?
According to the Australian Crime Commission in its 2012-2013 report on illicit drug data, drug seizures and arrests are at an all-time high. Maybe we’re getting better at stopping drugs from circulating. Or, less optimistically, maybe there are more drugs on the street to seize.
In 2007, the European Commission produced a report detailing drug use patterns over the preceding 10 years. The results? No change. The drug problem got better in some countries but a lot worse in others. In 2008, the Global Commission on Narcotic Drugs admitted that cannabis, opiate and cocaine use had increased considerably over the previous decade. “The global war on drugs has failed,” said the report. Though perhaps the problem would be worse were it not for hard-line policies.
In Australia, if drug prices are any indication, our problem is not going away any time soon. Despite our tough-on-crime approach and the best efforts by our police and special task forces, street drugs are just as readily available in this country as they have ever been. David McDonald, Director of Social Research & Evaluation Pty Ltd, critiques illicit drug policy. “The most concerning aspect,” he said, “is that most of the illegal drugs continue to be not only readily available but very cheap. In fact the prices of drugs have fallen over the years, which demonstrates the absolute failure of a law enforcement approach.” But what about all the drug busts? Huge quantities of marijuana found? Arrests made? Surely by making drugs more difficult to obtain, their prices should increase? “That hasn’t happened. Drugs remain cheap, high quality and readily available.”
What measures are available other than law enforcement?
In Australia, about one person every day dies from an illicit drug overdose. Increasingly, policy makers are realising that resources could be better allocated to addressing the harm that drugs cause. In 2010, when President Obama, newly elected, deliberately eased the international pressure on drug prohibition, he declared that drug use should be thought of as a healthcare problem. “The research evidence is absolutely clear,” said McDonald. “You get far better outcomes and far greater cost effectiveness from treatment and harm reduction than you do from law enforcement.”
Research has shown that the legal status of a drug has little bearing on its use; some people will always use. Some will never use. Four Australian states - South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Western Australia - have decriminalised minor cannabis offences such as possession, which is now treated much like a parking fine, delivered on the spot. Western Australia re-criminalised these minor offences in 2010, so users must be processed through the criminal justice system once again, despite the fact that during the decriminalised period there was a significant decrease in cannabis use, from 13.7% to 10.8%.
Decriminalisation has not caused an increase in drug use, as expected, in any states. According to McDonald, “the studies showed that it actually produced good results in the sense that young people weren’t involved in the criminal justice system and having to get criminal records”.
Could we take this further and apply the same model to other drugs? Would we see the same positive effects? “We definitely would with regard to drugs like ecstasy, heroin, cocaine and LSD, because with drugs like those the dynamics are the same. Some people argue that we should actually get rid of the offences of possessing small quantities and consuming drugs and simply retain the offences of supplying drugs or manufacturing and cultivating large quantities,” said McDonald. Most arrests relating to drugs are made for minor offences, such as possessing for personal use. “Since that doesn’t achieve anything worthwhile, and does create harms, in a logical world we’d get rid of those offences.”
Source - How's The War On Drugs Going, Crikey
The terms hemp and cannabis (frequently referred to as 'marijuana') are often used interchangeably, although they do carry separate connotations. According to A Practical and Natural Taxonomy for Cannabis, published by the International Association of Plant Taxonomy in 1976, “both hemp varieties and marijuana varieties are of the same genus, Cannabis, and the same species, Cannabis Sativa. Further, there are countless varieties that fall into further classifications within the species Cannabis Sativa.”
adapted from an excerpt of What is Hemp? from MedicalJane
24 February 2015
22 February 2015
Australia is behind the times on the medical use of cannabis
The assertion that cannabis is highly addictive ignores firm evidence. The most authoritative review comparing addictiveness of drugs rates physical dependence on a scale of 0–3. Heroin is ranked 3; tobacco, barbiturates and benzodiazepines, 1.8; alcohol, 1.6; and cannabis, 0.8 (See Table 3 from Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse, published in the Lancet in 2007).
Australians, together with citizens in the US and New Zealand, are the world's greatest users of cannabis per head of population (See Table 1 from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report, 2011). Prohibition has failed to prevent widespread use and young people report that they can readily access it (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2010 National DrugStrategy household survey report). Potential medical users are often, for example, in the later stage of a battle with painful cancer, finding problems with morphine, other analgesics and nausea with chemotherapy. Others seek relief from painful conditions such as muscle spasm in multiple sclerosis. Cannabis is believed to reduce seizures in Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic myoclonic epileptic encephalopathy beginning in infancy. Most parents of affectedchildren (84%) report much lessened frequency or abolition of seizures with medical cannabis. They should have continuing access to it until trials using purified cannabidiol (CBD), believed to be the active component for these children, provide a superior agent.
Australia is behind the times on medical cannabis. Currently, 23 states in the US have legalised use of cannabis for medical conditions, as has Canada since 2001. Other countries approving it include Israel, Holland and the Czech Republic. Portugal, in 2001, removed penalties for personal possession and use of all illicit drugs, but with rigorous administrative processes to handle problem use.
Eliminating prohibition is not a disaster if there are sensible processes to control drug-related harms. Just take a look at Portugal, where they decriminalised the use and possession of all illicit drugs in July 2001. From a study, What can we learn from the Portuguesedecriminalization of illicit drugs? which appeared in the British Journal of Criminology in 2010;
The issue of decriminalising illicit drugs is hotly debated, but is rarely subject to evidence-based analysis. This paper examines the case of Portugal, a nation that decriminalised the use and possession of all illicit drugs on 1 July 2001. Drawing upon independent evaluations and interviews conducted with 13 key stakeholders in 2007 and 2009, it critically analyses the criminal justice and health impacts against trends from neighbouring Spain and Italy. It concludes that contrary to predictions, the Portuguese decriminalisation did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding. The article discusses these developments in the context of drug law debates and criminological discussions on late modern governance.
An Australian and US study found that removal of legal action and possible imprisonment for possession and use makes no difference to the patterns of use of cannabis, This is the abstract of the study, The impact of cannabis decriminalisation in Australia andthe United States;
This paper summarises and compares the impacts of cannabis decriminalisation measures in two countries. In Australia, an expiation model of decriminalisation succeeded in avoiding the imposition of criminal convictions for many offenders, but substantial numbers of offenders received criminal convictions because of a general "net-widening" in cannabis offence detections, and the failure of many offenders to pay expiation fees and thus avoid criminal prosecution. Despite these problems, the expiation approach has been cost-effective, reducing enforcement costs without leading to increased cannabis use. In the United States, cannabis decriminalisation similarly reduced enforcement costs, with enforcement resources generally redirected toward trafficking and other illicit drugs. There were no increases in cannabis use or substantial problems that could be ascribed to decriminalisation. The implications to other countries are discussed, with particular attention to the importance of implementation issues, monitoring and evaluation. Although decriminalisation has succeeded in reducing enforcement and other costs without increasing the problems associated with cannabis use, the same impacts would not necessarily result from the legalisation of cannabis or the decriminalisation of other illicit drugs.
World Health Organisation mental health surveys of 17 countries found that “countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones”. There is no rational basis for the view that weakening prohibition to permit use for medical conditions would lead to a surge in general use.
Adapted from an article in the Medical Journal Australia
David G Penington DM, FRCP, FRACP
University of Melbourne, Vic., Australia
19 February 2015
It's not about getting 'high', cannabis could save your life!
Modern research is showing that cannabis extracts protect and benefit the human brain in amazing ways. Scientists are showing that cannabis actually helps to keep your brain safe from disease, dementia and even death!
Cannabis promotes new brain cell growth
US government scare campaigns claim cannabis kills brain cells, but the truth is studies done in the 1970's involving strapping a gas mask onto a monkey and pumping hundreds of joints worth of smoke into it resulted in the monkeys suffering from lack of oxygen and their brain cells died. Now completely discredited, the Dr Heath/Tulane Study of 1974 was the basis for US government booklets and sponsored anti-cannabis propaganda literature.
In 1974, then California Governor Ronald Reagan was asked about decriminalising 'marijuana'. After producing the Heath/Tulane University study, the so-called "Great Communicator" told the national press, "The most reliable scientific sources say permanent brain damage is one of the inevitable results of the use of 'marijuana'" (LA Times). Ronald Reagan's pronouncement was probably based on the fact that cannabis smoking was the only difference in the two sets of monkeys. Perhaps Reagan trusted the federal research, therefore reflecting a real health hazard to humans. Perhaps he had other motives. In 1980, Playboy and NORML finally received, after six years of requests and suing the US Government, an accurate account of the research procedures used in the famous report. When NORML/Playboy hired researchers to examine the reported results against the actual methodology, they laughed. They discovered that Heath had completely omitted, among other things, the carbon monoxide the monkeys inhaled during the 63 joints in five minutes; carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that kills brain cells and is given off by any burning object. All researchers found the cannabis findings in Heath's experiment to be of no value. The Heath Monkey study was actually a study in animal asphyxiation and carbon monoxide poisoning.
An excerpt from "The Emperor Wears No Clothes", by Jack Herer [ pp 77]
When U.S. government sponsored marijuana research prior to 1976 indicated that pot was harmless or beneficial, the methodology of how the studies were done was always presented in detail in the reports; e.g., read "The Therapeutic Potential of Marijuana" (1976) and you will see exactly what the methodology of each medical study was. However, when our government bureaucrats deliberately sponsored negative marijuana research, time and time again Playboy magazine and/or NORML, High times, etc. had to sue under the new Freedom of Information Act to find out the actual methods employed.
Modern research is now proving the active ingredients in cannabis spur the growth of new brain cells! Back in 2005, Dr Xia Zhang at the University of Saskatchewan showed that cannabinoids cause “neurogenesis”, which means they help make new brain cells grow!
“Most ‘drugs of abuse’ suppress neurogenesis,” said Dr Zhang. “Only 'marijuana' promotes neurogenesis”. Scientists in Brazil expanded on this research, demonstrating in 2013 that CBD, another compound in cannabis, also causes new brain cells to sprout. Researchers in Italy then produced the same result with CBC, another cannabinoid found in cannabis resin. Now there is no doubt that cannabinoids cause new brain cells to grow in the hippocampus. This helps explain previous research showing that cannabinoids effectively treat mood disorders like depression, anxiety and stress, they are all related to a lack of adult neurogenesis.
Cannabis prevents Alzheimer’s
As many as 5 million Americans (over 65) suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and over 300,000 Australians suffer from dementia, but there’s hope in sight. Modern research shows that using cannabis helps prevent the incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia by cleaning away beta-amyloid “brain plaque”. A 2014 study into cannabis and Alzheimer’s found that “THC could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer's disease through multiple functions and pathways” confirming earlier studies which found that THC “simultaneously treated both the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s disease”. One 2008 study concluded that, “compared to currently approved drugs prescribed for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, THC is considerably superior”. These studies used very low levels of THC to find these results, the levels you might find in a moderate cannabis user. So where’s the mainstream media headlines from 2008 and 2014 saying “Cannabis Prevents Alzheimer’s”?
Cannabis prevents brain damage after strokes and trauma
A study done in 2012 (Long-term behavioural and biochemical effects of an ultra-low dose of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): neuroprotection and ERK signaling) found that low dose THC protected mice brains from damage by carbon monoxide and head trauma. Researchers found that THC “protected brain cells and preserved cognitive function over time” and suggested that it could be used as a preventative and for ongoing protection. A 2014 study (published in October) found that people with low amounts of THC in their system were about 80% less likely to die from serious head injuries than those without. This last study is actually quite remarkable and should have been headline news. This means that in a group of occasional cannabis users and a group of abstainers who suffer similar brain injuries, the cannabis users will suffer only 2 deaths for every 10 suffered by the abstainers! There are approximately 53,000 deaths every year from traumatic head injury in America (in Australia, Acquired Brain Injury affects over 600,000; and three out of four sufferers are under 65 years). The US study showed that if every adult American had a puff of cannabis once a week, 20% of those deaths would be avoided, that’s about 41,600 lives that could be saved, every year. Why isn’t this world-wide front page news? And there's plenty of other research available on cannabis and brain trauma.
Cannabis extracts treat brain cancer
Another exciting use of cannabinoids is in the treatment of cancer. Repeated laboratory and animal studies have shown that cannabinoids kill cancer cells and shrink tumours, while helping to protect normal cells. Recent research includes a 2012 study showing that CBD stopped metastasis in aggressive forms of cancer; a 2013 study showing that a blend of six cannabinoids killed leukaemia cells; and a 2014 study showing that THC and CBD could be combined with traditional chemotherapy to produce “dramatic reductions” in brain tumour size. Using cannabis extracts for brain cancer is nothing new. A 1998 study found that THC “induces apoptosis [cell death] in C6 glioma cells”, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
The medicinal benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids are immense and it’s time everyone was allowed full access to this amazing healing herb. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll even get to use outdoor home-grown cannabis to produce pure, cheap cannabinoids for the millions across the world who need them ...
This article adapted from http://www.alternet.org