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"Losing sight of the real killer"

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Newshawk: Niall Young

Pubdate: Thu, 01 May 2003

Source: West Australian (Australia)

Copyright: 2003 West Australian Newspapers Limited

Contact: letters@wanews.com.au

Website: http :P/www.thewest.com.au

Details: http :P/www.mapinc.org/media/495

Author: Jason Meotti




THE concerted campaign being run by the Liberal Party and anti-drug

groups opposing the Government's cannabis law reform legislation has reached a crescendo.


We now have conservative independents jumping on the bandwagon and the

National Party abandoning its own policy platform to avoid the

"soft-on-drugs" tag.


The mainstream media, who only a short time ago were supportive of the

implementation of Drug Summit recommendations like this, have turned and

are attacking the Government for pushing ahead with these reforms.


The dominant argument being run is that cannabis is, supposedly, a

dangerous and harmful drug and therefore must remain completely illegal

- even if that means potentially ruining thousands of lives with a

criminal conviction for the possession and personal use of the drug. There is no evidence to suggest giving someone a criminal conviction reduces drug

use, but there is ample evidence it will significantly increase the

likelihood of further involvement in the criminal justice system.


Another argument is that these reforms will further normalise drug use

in our communtiies. This in a society that has a culture revolving around

the consumption of "legal" drugs such as tobacco and alchol.


If we are to ever rid ourselves of the scourge of drug abuse, then all

drugs need to be legislated on the basis of their relative harm and

danger to society.


So, if the Liberal and National parties are so committed to truly

addressing the issue of drug abuse, they should support a review of the

legal status of the most deadly and, arguably, most addictive and

normalised drug of abuse - tobacco.


I am sure any decision they make will not be swayed by the vast sums of

money that the major political parties receive in direct funding from

tobacco companies, or the billions that Treasury coffers receive from

taxation on tobacco products. The decision by the Liberal Party a few

years ago to let a major tobacco company sponsor its national conference

is a decision I'm sure they now regret.


Despite the taxation revenue governments receive from tobaccoo, it still

does not come close to the costs associated with its use anbd abuse. Go

into any oncology ward and see how many people are having their lives

shortened through their tobacco addiction. Go ask any welfare agency

how may people seek emergency support for food or other life essentials, yet

are able to afford cigarettes.


Then we come to the issue of normalising drug use. There is not another

addictive drug that is so openly consumed. Children are exposed to

tobacco smoking every day - in public, at home or via the media.


A recent survey of tobacco retailers showed 70 per cent were prepared to

sell cigarettes to under-age children. No wonder so many children are

drawn to addictive drugs like tobacco when it is so readily available

and its use so widespread and accepted.


The expectation that organised crime will step in to fill the void

created by making tobacco ultimately illegal is a minor one. Strict prohibition

backed by a zero-tolerance approach to law enforcement is the preferred

model for illicit drug control of the conservative parties and anti-drug

groups. With enough resources provided to law-enforcement agencies -

backed by still criminal penalties for those that use, supply or produce

tobacco - the use and supply of tobacco would disappear within a short

space of time.


What to do about the significant number of tobacco addicts is a

relatively simple question. One measure could be similar to the heroin trial

model. Confirmed addicts, who have tried several times to kick their

habit, get a prescription for tobacco - but only after being assessed by

trained medical professionals and offered treatment and

rehabilitation. "Smoking galleries" will need to be established so

addicts can smoke without fear of prosecution.


This may seem a radical solution, and it may even be unpopular

electorally, but so was the introduction of seat-belt laws. That law has since saved thousands of lives and billions of dollars in medical costs and lost



The same rationale applies to tobacco. Whilst there may be little that

can be done to help those already addicted, by preventing future generations

taking up this deadly habit, the savings in lives and medical costs

alone will be staggering. Tobacco accounts for around 80 per cent of all

drug-related deaths, whilst there has yet to be a single death recorded

that has been directly attributed to cannabis use alone.


This measure will also provide a far bigger long-term boon for Treasury

than the short-term tax revenue it currently gets from the sale of this

highly dangerous and deadly drug of addiction. Health budgets,

constantly under pressure, will have a huge burden lifted from them.


I propose that with cross-party support another Drug Summit be held,

this time solely focused on the legal drugs of addiciton, and that any

recommendations forthcoming be implemented without delay.


So Messrs Barnett and Trenorden, are you prepared to tackle the broader

issue of drug abuse head-on, or do you prefer to take a hypocritical

stance for short-term political gain and only propose that some psychoactive

drugs be made illegal?


Jason Meotti is State president of the Australian Drug Law Reform

Foundation (WA) and chairman of the WA Community Drug Summit's working




HEMP SA Inc - Help End Marijuana Prohibition South Australia

PO Box 1019 Kent Town South Australia 5071 AUSTRALIA


Website: http :P/www.hemp.on.net.

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