The moral case for and against the legalization of cannabis in Australia

The moral case for and against the legalization of cannabis in Australia

There is a wealth of easily available information about Cannabis on the internet. The average person can now easily make an informed and logical decision on whether cannabis is a substance they wish to try. If they choose the latter, in Australia they will be breaking the law.

The government has established laws outlawing the consumption of cannabis, apparently, for mostly moral reasons. Governments exist to set the rules of society and some would say they have an obligation to ensure that the individuals in a country receive justice and tolerance. Governments also have an obligation to step in, in some circumstances, for example, on grounds of public safety.

How then, does the government’s moral view on cannabis stand up when considered?

 

MYTH

In the media, marijuana can be portrayed as a factor contributing to the ‘breakdown of social morals’ and behavior. There appears to be little evidence to support this argument.

 

A historical perspective on public perception of the drug

Historically, most of the calls to legalize and reform cannabis laws came from libertarian far right and the political margins of the far left.

The more conservative side of society had, until recently, tended to associate using cannabis with the ‘alternative’ or ‘hippy’ culture that encouraged a 70’s and 80’s “anything goes” type attitude. The youth of that era, now, however, comprise the majority of public voting rights. This has resulted in a more liberal moral view of cannabis being commonplace.

The first time drugs were made illegal was in the early 1900’s in America as a means to control the Chinese immigrants and as a moral objection to seeing white people using opium in Chinese opium dens. After the Mexican war there was a huge influx of Mexican and Indian immigrants. The authorities decided to use the banning of marijuana as a means to control these immigrants who were at that time almost the only users of recreational marijuana, although it was widely used in over the counter and prescribed medicines under the name of cannabis, a known harmless herb.

 

The starting point for today’s legislation – the moral case against

In the media, marijuana can be portrayed as a factor contributing to the ‘breakdown of social morals’ and behavior. Those who believed this were concerned that legalizing cannabis could lead to the liberalizing and the ultimate legalization of other hard drugs. They associated this with a moral decline, prostitution, a life of depravity and a decline in people taking responsibility for their own lives and actions. There appears to be little evidence to support this argument.

There is evidence, however, that cannabis can be addictive for some, can reduce motivation and accentuate mental illness, especially in ‘at risk’ groups. Smoking marijuana before working, then, may increase workplace accidents and compensation claims. Furthermore, smoking anything can cause respiratory problems and marijuana is no exception.

The government certainly does have a moral obligation to step in where workplace safety is an issue and to ensure the wellbeing of it’s population when it comes to mental and respiratory illnesses.

 

FACT

The most fundamental aspect of public policy around marijuana has to be the right to individual freedoms. There has to be a good reason for the government to infringe on our ability to conduct ourselves as we wish to.

 

More modern times - the most fundamental argument

The most fundamental aspect of public policy around marijuana has to be the right to individual freedoms. There has to be a good reason for the government to infringe on our ability to conduct ourselves as we wish to – as the Americans put it ‘in the pursuit of happiness.’  

More Australians support the legalization of marijuana than wish to see it legislated against. However, legalizing it is seen as ‘radical’ and too controvertial’ to be addressed by government.

 

There is a moral imperative to provide drugs which help people

Cannabis is a natural grown substance, which  benefits many people not only as a medicine but as a recreational aid. It is known to be less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.

The medical profession and lawmakers should be prepared to make decisions that benefit those in our community who are in need of the benefits of cannabis. These include the wellknown healing and pain reduction effects it has.

  

Providing employment and economic growth is one of the responsibilities of the stae

The legalization of cannabis would move much (probably not all) of the Cannabis black market to a legal version which can then be taxed and regulated. Although small, estimtes of the net benefit to Australians are positive. Jobs would be created.

  

We should target crimes which do harm

There is no evidence that Marijuana itself, or legalization of cannabis, causes crime. In the communities which have legalized cannabis consumption, crimes rates have fallen.

In Australia, Cannabis is the most common drug in use by police detainees. The Australian police force have, what appears to be an extremely sensible way of dealing with cannabis use, given the laws which are in place. They are far more likely to refer someone caught with a small amount of cannabis to educational services than they are to recommend their imprisonment. Never-the-less, Police time is spent on dealing with cannabis as a crime and that time could be rediverted to other, more productive uses if the law was changed.

 

Summing up the moral case for and against legalizing cannabis

The current system appears to impose age old prejudices around marijuana on a populaton which feels it should be legal.

The evidence suggests that legalizing cannabis would have a positive economic effect, free up resources among police forces to track other crimes which cause more harm and help, at least some people medically.

The negative moral effects of working under the influence and increased risks from a compensation and workplace accident point of view, are covered by existing legislation. Of course workers can’t work when impaired for any reason, including marijuana.

In some ways, the question, for me, boils down to what decision would do the most good for the most people. Legalizing cannabis would seem to give people the choice as to whether they undertake cannabis usage – which, in some forms and for some people is a risky activity.