Addressing Cannabis-Related Harm In Queensland
A parliamentary committee is seeking the views of people in Queensland on the most effective ways to address cannabis-related harm.
The Social Development Committee is conducting an inquiry that will examine the risks associated with cannabis use and strategies to reduce
the level of use.
Ms Lindy Nelson-Carr MP, Chair of the committee said:
“Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Australia with one third of Australians aged 14 years and older having used cannabis at some point
in their lives.
“There is mounting evidence that cannabis use is associated with serious health risks and that the risks are particularly significant for young people.
“The starting point for the inquiry is the Cannabis: suicide, schizophrenia and other ill-effects research paper published last year by Drug Free
Australia. That paper highlighted a range of physical and mental health harms associated with cannabis and made eleven recommendations
aimed at reducing the level of use.
“The committee will examine the latest evidence about the risks associated with cannabis, particularly the risks to a user’s mental and
physical health; the risk of addiction; and the risk of cannabis acting as a gateway to other harmful substances. It will also consider how these risks
are influenced by factors such as the age of first use; the frequency of use; and the potency of the cannabis.
“The committee will then use this evidence to identify appropriately targeted strategies to reduce the level of cannabis use in the community,
focussing particularly on the role of schools, public health campaigns and law enforcement.”
Interested individuals and organisations are invited to make written submissions by Friday 23 April 2010.
An issues paper providing information about the inquiry and how to make a submission is available online at www.parliament.qld.gov.au/sdc or by
contacting committee staff on (07) 3406 7230.
For further information contact: Ms Lindy Nelson-Carr MP
Chair, Social Development Committee
Ms Lindy Nelson-Carr MP
Mr Mark McArdle MP
Ms Ros Bates MP
Mr Michael Choi MP
Mrs Liz Cunningham MP
Ms Mandy Johnstone MP
Mrs Desley Scott MP
*Guidelines and full details here
I remember reading about Queensland independent, Peter Wellington MP when he put forward this proposal to parliament. Little did he know that promoting a DFA report instantly put him in the running as a BucketHead of the Year nominee. His impressive ability to be obtuse while basing his research solely on one report from a crackpot fundamentalist group along with acquiring his limited and flimsy knowledge of drug related issues from the CourierMail, ACA and the Today show, earned him a runner up award in the Most Useless Initiative In 2009 category. Congratulations Pete.
He said the report showed “irrefutable” evidence there was a connection for many people between cannabis/marijuana use and mental illness.
What concerns me is that so many people in our community seem to have the view that marijuana use is not a problem. They view it as a recreational drug which is not a problem and that everyone does it.
The report has frightening revelations, and mental illness is a tsunami about to erupt
--Peter Wellington MP (ind.) Member for Nicklin.
Arhh, that old doomsday prediction that the sky is going to fall in and society is about to crumble under the weight of the latest major drug problem. It was pot and LSD in the 1960s, heroin and PCP in the 1970s, Cocaine and everything in the 1980s, ecstasy and speed in the 1990s and in the 2000s it’s heroin, pot, meth, ecstasy, methadone, pot, heroin, oxycondone, pot, ketamine, ecstasy, GBH, cocaine, mephedrone and pot again. The sky remains firmly in tact.
Drug Free Australia (DFA)
DFA are notorious for releasing hardline, anti-drug reports and were a major contributor to The Bishop Report: “The Winnable War on Drugs”. They strongly oppose harm minimisation and favour Zero Tolerance drug policies like the US and Sweden. The Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in Kings Cross is one of their favourite targets and they produced the report, The Case for Closure in an attempt to discredit the program. Like all DFA reports and research papers, it was debunked by facts, totally ignored by the medical industry, laughed at by the scientific community and rejected by AOD and welfare groups. Not surprisingly though, it did get the attention of the babbling Toad-Boy, Piers Akerman. And everyone knows that once the Toad-Boy puts his weight behind something[insert scary image here], then without doubt, that something must be some idiotic, right wing agenda. Like their current report, The Case for Closure was authored by DFA members, religious fundamentalists and other hardline anti-drug zealots. Authors of The Case for Closure include:
Dr Joe Santamaria (previously Department Head of Community Medicine, St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne)
Dr Stuart Reece (Addiction Medicine specialist, Brisbane)
Dr Lucy Sullivan (Social Researcher formerly of the Centre for Independent Studies, Sydney)
Dr Greg Pike, (Director of Southern Cross Bio-ethics Institute, Adelaide)
Mr Gary Christian, (Welfare industry Senior Manager, Sydney).
If some of these names seem familiar or send a chill up your spine, it’s probably because of their much publicised disproval of harm minimisation, their background in loopy religious cults or accusations of causing multiple deaths through dodgy treatment programs. This group is lovingly known as The Adams Family.
So what about their latest report, Cannabis: suicide, schizophrenia and other ill-effects?
This was announced yesterday. For those who don't know, Drug Free Australia are a bunch of anti scientific religious loonies, and their propaganda has formed the basis for this inquiry. The recommendations so far include drug testing school students, and "police blitzes" on cannabis users every three months for two years - whatever that means... Frightening stuff. I'd strongly encourage individuals from Bluelight to submit your opinions.
The report is very much standard fare for DFA. Full of debunked myths, useless initiatives and pleas for a drug free world. Among the claims from DFA is several old bugbear of theirs, increased cannabis potency, the gateway theory, cannabis is addictive and of course, links to mental health. And their recommendations are just as silly. They include: running police blitzes every three months for a two year period, targeting users and potential users, drug testing in schools, forcing drug councillors to adapt their ideology, anti-cannabis propaganda campaigns, tougher penalties and interventions.
Each year as science unravels more facts about cannabis, DFA and other drug warriors have to look for new issues to push or they switch their focus to capitalise on the current concerns of the public. But this strategy is getting old and just claiming to be Australia’s peak body on drug issues, is sounding somewhat empty. In the past, many, many experts have pulled apart DFA claims with links to well known and respected researchers. In an effort to gain some credibility and to appear “scientific”, DFA have resorted to producing “research papers” and reports also. The problem is that they often link to sources that have been regularly challenged for their accuracy, methodology and especially their agenda. Many of these referenced studies have been commissioned by the US government or anti-drug organisations to further the propaganda and support for the US "War on Drugs". Like we are seeing in the climate change debate, there is always some scientific body that will use statistical misdirection and junk science to push an agenda based on conservative ideology.
In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in the US which made cannabis illegal. The world soon followed. The events that surrounded the new law were as farcical as they get and not based on any scientific data or logic. It was purely based on ideology, greed and racism. It was one year after the film, Reefer Madness was released.
There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.
Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.
Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men
Harry J. Anslinger was the first director of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Aslinger’s constant attack on cannabis was racial motivated by his hate of Mexicans and African Americans, and supported by large industrialists who feared that cannabis/hemp would effect their company profits. The large pharmaceutical companies didn’t want a “medicine” that potential customers could grow in their backyard and media mogul, William Hearst had invested heavily in the timber industry which serviced his newspaper empire with paper from wood chips. Hearst also hated Mexicans and his newspapers regularly wrote about the evil Mexicans and their killer drug called marihuana.
Children of addicts are said to be inferior; in parts some of India, where hashish has long been used to excess, whole communities are imbecilic and morally degraded!
--American Scholar Phi Beta Kappa (1938)
I’d rather see my children up against a wall and see them shot down before my eyes than to know that any one of them was going to be a drug(marijuana) slave!
--Levi G. Nutt - Head of the Narcotics Division of the US Treasury Dept as quoted in Hearst newspapers nationwide (1929)
The Gateway Theory
One of the main claims in the DFA report is that cannabis use leads to hard drugs. This is called The Gateway Theory and was first suggested in the 1930s by dubious drug warrior and Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Aslinger. Back then it was known as the stepping stone theory and was rejected from day one by the American Medical Association. Since then it’s been debunked dozens of times.
In contrast, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy’s “2008 Marijuana Sourcebook” clearly states that recent research supports the gateway hypothesis, specifically that “its use creates greater risk of abuse or dependency on other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine”.
Just because most users of other illicit drugs have also tried cannabis, it is not evidence that pot is a “gateway” to the use of more dangerous drugs. I remember when I was young, being told that cannabis will make you want to try something harder, in an attempt to discourage the use of drugs. This might be suitable advice for a parent to their 12 year old child but certainly not for so called professionals claiming it is a fact. Every time I ask a pot smoker if weed makes them want to try “something harder” I get a blank stare like I’m an idiot. The argument from supporters of The Gateway Theory is a case study into drug warrior logic - since most users of harder drugs started out smoking pot, then pot must lead to harder drugs. I have a different theory - since most users of harder drugs started out drinking milk, then milk must lead to harder drugs. A friend of mine attributes it to Corn Flakes and Mrs Wright blames alcohol. My friend might be right though ... nearly 100% of drug addicts in Australia started out eating Corn Flakes. Anyway, if cannabis leads to hard drugs, why isn’t there the same amount of junkies as there is pot smokers?
Ironically though, it’s the current laws that expose cannabis users to harder drugs. Although, cannabis itself doesn’t make users want to try other drugs, the illegality of it drives sales underground where dealers will often sell a variety of drugs as well as cannabis. It’s this situation that helps to generate more cannabis users trying harder drugs, much to the delight of The Gateway Theory supporters.
Like most DFA papers, the use of cherry picking data and misdirection is used extensively throughout their latest report. For example, most of the mental health problems are relevant to people under the age of 21 or chronic abusers, not the majority of cannabis users.
The research team found that the chronic use of cannabis during adolescence – a critical period of ongoing brain development – slowed psychomotor speed, led to poorer complex attention, verbal memory and also planning ability. Perhaps, most startlingly, these impacts continued after one month’s abstinence from cannabis use.
Not separating susceptible young users from adults and moderate users from heavy abusers is misleading because most cannabis users do so in moderation and will not experience any of the main problems suggested by DFA. Less than 1 percent of the population smoke cannabis on a daily basis. Cannabis is not addictive and it’s rare to experience any withdrawal symptoms but those who do often compare it to giving up coffee. Using drugs including alcohol and cannabis is not a good idea for young people who have developing brains. The evidence clearly shows this. Unfortunately, DFA rarely make this distinction when demonising cannabis and much of their findings is based on young people under 21. Exaggeration, not distinguishing between age groups and focussing on the worst case scenario is common practice for anti-drug buffoons and DFA are no exception.
It is undeniable that cannabis affects the brain, and affects the brain’s functioning adversely. Conclusive evidence shows that heavy marijuana use for five years or more may impair memory and slow cognitive function with specific research completed on impaired driving ability.
There is no conclusive evidence that cannabis causes lasting psychological problems or mental illness in adults without having a predisposition to, or a family history of mental health disorders. Cannabis does produce temporary changes in thoughts, perceptions, information processing and effects short-term memory. But this can be misleading as any effect on short-term memory disappears when you are no longer under the influence of cannabis. It isn’t a permanent loss of your short term memory capabilities as suggested. Some cannabis users experience psychological distress which may include feelings of panic, anxiety and paranoia. This can be alarming and also a great selling point for anti-cannabis pundits, but the effects are only temporary. There is a lot of talk about cannabis causing schizophrenia but for an average user, this is simply not true. Again, only those adults with a predisposition to, or a family history of mental health disorders will show signs of schizophrenia. In fact, the effects of cannabis only mimick the symptoms of schizophrenia and these disappear after the effects of the cannabis wear off.
Marijuana leads to homosexuality . . . and therefore to AIDS
--US Drug Czar Carlton Turner (1986)
There have been hundreds of studies into mental illness and cannabis but many of them were funded or organised by groups with an agenda. Groups like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other US government bodies, along with dubious anti-drug organisations like Drug Free America Foundation(DFAF), Foundation for a Drug Free World(FDFW) and The Church of Scientology are notorious for commissioning biased and misleading reports. Drug Free Australia (DFA) are simply the local equivalent and follow the same strategies as their international counterparts. The report, Cannabis: suicide, schizophrenia and other ill-effects by DFA lists many sources but just as important is what they leave out. In particular, a 2009 report from Keele University in the UK caused a major upset for drug warriors. After exhaustive research, they reported that although adult cannabis use had increased over 400% since the late 1980s, cases of mental illness had not increased with it and actually declined slightly. Interestingly, cannabis use for under 18’s increased over 3 times the adult rate which made the case for cannabis causing mental illness even less likely.
DFA also raises the issue of physical harm from cannabis and concludes that it can cause great damage to your lungs much like tobacco. What they leave out is the frequency of cannabis use. Whilst cigarette smokers may have 10 to 50 a day and inhale a dozen times or so for each cigarette, a regular cannabis smoker may inhale only 2-20 times a week. That’s an enormous difference ... 120-600(cigarettes) vs. 2-20(cannabis) puffs per week. Dope smokers tend to hold in the smoke a bit longer than cigarette smokers and bong smokers certainly inhaled much harder but the number of puffs
As you can see, when using an average cannabis smoker for comparisons, the scare factor and the perceived harms diminish greatly. Exaggeration, worse case scenarios and scare tactics are a key part of anti-drug rhetoric. Another common tactic is to dress up a report so it appears as a legitimate scientific paper. In an attempt to make this report more credible, a vast number of references were added throughout. In fact, there is 14 pages of References And Suggested Additional Reading listed at the end. Yep, 14 pages!
Cannabis is well absorbed through inhaling its smoke or its inclusion in cakes or cookies and is very slowly metabolised by the body as it becomes deeply absorbed and entrenched in the body’s fatty tissues, with the brain a primary target. The complete elimination of a single dose from a user’s system may take up to thirty days (Cabral, 1989) and its acute effects can last several hours. In the case of chronic and frequent use, cannabis concentrations accumulate and can cause a chronic intoxication and dependency.
Why do DFA so rigourously support drug testing at school and the workplace?
The early 2003 Michigan study compared the rates of drug use, as measured by Monitoring the Future, in schools that did some type of drug testing to schools that did not. The researchers controlled for various demographic differences and found across the board that drug testing was ineffective; there was no statistically significant difference in the number of users at a school that tested for drugs and a similar school that didn't.
The White House criticized the Michigan study for failing to look at the efficacy of random testing. So, Yamaguchi, Johnston, and O'Malley added the random element and ran their study again, this time adding data for the year 2002. The follow-up study, published later in 2003, tracked 94,000 middle- and high-school students. It reached the same results as its precursor. Even if drug testing is done randomly and without suspicion, it's not associated with a change in the number of students who use drugs in any category.
The Michigan follow-up found one exception: In schools that randomly tested students, 12th-graders were more likely to smoke marijuana.
Data suggest that drug testing, as practiced in recent years in American secondary schools, does not prevent or inhibit student drug use. The two forms of drug testing that are generally assumed to be most promising for reducing student drug use - random testing applied to all students, and testing of athletes - did not produce encouraging results.
--Drug Testing in Schools: Policies, Practices, and Association with Student Drug Use (University of Michigan)
Why don’t these studies get a mention?
Is it strange that the main report cited by DFA for their support of drug testing, Elements of a Successful School-Based Student Drug Testing Program is authored by DFA associate, Robert DuPont? DuPont happens to also be the ex US Drug Czar whose department is infamous for crooked studies and distorted statistics. The US Drug Czar is also the driving force behind the "War on Drugs".
Apart from being an anti-drug zealot, what else does DuPont have to gain from drug testing? Dupont is a partner at Bensinger, DuPont & Associates but denies his company has anything to do drug testing. Yet on the Bensinger, DuPont & Associates website,it says, “BDA offers a range of products designed to help employers establish and manage workplace drug and alcohol testing programs”. BDA have the contract to prescreen the staff of the US Post Office for illegal drug use. It is the biggest prescreening program in the world. Robert DuPont is also the chairman of the scientific advisory board for Psychemedics, the world's premier drug hair testing company.
He's now working on an evaluation of eight schools. The results won't be ready soon, but let's venture a prediction: Random drug testing will come out looking good.
The pressing issue then is why do DFA support school drug testing when it doesn’t reduce drug use? The Jesuit Social Services released a report that rejected any benefit from school drug testing as did the Australian National Council on Drugs. In 2006, DFA associate, Anne Bressington tried to introduce a bill into SA that would require all students over 14 to be drug tested twice a year but it was rejected by The South Australian Association of Independent Schools and the Health Minister.
What is known though is that it leads kids trying more dangerous that aren’t detectable. It also leads to a loss of trust of school authorities. DFA have been pushing drug testing for many years now but just won’t let it go. Hmmm.
Most people know that cannabis is not a harmless drug. However, most of the problems associated with cannabis or in fact all drugs, are because of prohibition and the strategies supported by groups like DFA.
Take mental illness for one. The cannabis which seems to cause most harm for people is that where there is a high percentage of THC and a low percentage of CBD (one of cannabis’s other main compounds). Cannabis that has a pretty even split between THC and CBD can often be beneficial for people with a propensity to psychosis and it seems the CBD element is what attracts vulnerable people to cannabis in the first place.
However, in a prohibitionist world there are great financial incentives for gowing THC rich cannabis – of which Skunk is the most famous variety. Skunk grows quickly and loves hydroponic conditions. It also sells for more because users think that the strongest stuff is the best stuff.
What all this means is that prohibition causes skunk to be grown and consumed more than it would do in a market economy and that skunk is the very worst thing we could foist upon heavy or young cannabis users.
We are seeing more evidence of this every year as countries like Portugal, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, The Czech Republic etc. move away from the prohibitionist model and turn to science and evidence based policies for answers. Even the US who are infamous for leading the charge on the "War on Drugs" are rapidly decriminalising cannabis and legalising medical marijuana in a growing number of states. Why have DFA decided now to spend their limited resources and precious time on a shaky, flawed report? What’s the point of it and who pays for it?
This work has been supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Drug Free Australia Ltd or the Australian Government.
--Disclaimer for the DFA report Cannabis: suicide, schizophrenia and other ill-effects
One issue that hasn’t been addressed is, who are the members of The Social Development Committee? Will they be unbiased and balanced in their enquiry? The very fact that they agreed to use a DFA research paper should be sending off alarm bells. Many of the members have previously made their position well known that they support the rhetorical “Tough on Drugs” strategy with none of them showing any real understanding of the drug issue. See how many drug myths you can spot.
Particularly at Gold Coast Hospital and Logan, where there are instances of people on crack and ice -- they are superhuman when they become psychotic.
Committee member and Opposition Spokesman For Health, Mark McArdle has been quoted several times misrepresenting the facts as well as down playing the alcohol problem as secondary to illicit drugs. There is no excuse in 2010 to be playing politics with a health issue as serious as drug use. The effects of alcohol on the community exceeds those of illicit drugs a hundred fold which makes a mockery of McArdle’s views. The science is readily available to anyone who wants to find it but for an opposition health minister, it should be mandatory.
To date we have focussed largely on alcohol being the cause. This is not right, as drugs play an equally devastating role in street violence.
Blaming drugs for “street violence” exposes Mark McArdle’s ignorance of the subject. The effects of most illicit drugs is not responsible for the bulk of street violence and in fact causes almost none . Alcohol clearly has the honour as being the most violent drug on earth. But the business of illicit drugs does play a major part due solely to the very laws pushed for by McArdle. There’s a major distinction between being violent while under the influence and drug gangs fighting it out in the streets to settle drug disputes. Back in 2008, McAdle was also a huge supporter of re-classifying MDMA (ecstasy) as a schedule one drug. The law increased the maximum penalty for ecstasy offences to 25 years but it was not just targeted at dealers but users as well. I find it hard to grasp that an opposition health minister would be so supportive of increased penalties for users. But the most obvious flaw is that MDMA poses very little risk to society in reality and the harms are extremely exaggerated. Surely someone who wants to have the Queensland health portfolio should know this. Will his ignorance and personal views affect The Social Development Committee report?
The high incidence of illicit drug taking and the now well-known effects of drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, ice et cetera have resulted in a huge increase in mental health problems
Both of the major political parties in Queensland, do not have a very good record for pragmatic drug policies and both have members on the Social Development Committee. Most of them have made some remarkable comments about drugs usually based on popular myths or in an attempt to appear “Tough on Drugs”. Although they might not be as brazenly stupid as say, Mike Horan they do regularly contradict the latest scientific evidence.
The LNP has already signaled its tough-on-crime approach by introducing a Private Members’ Bill in Parliament this week to take out the sentencing principle of jail as a last resort from the Juvenile Justice Act.
Desley Scott, member for Woodridge and member of The Social Development Committee was a vocal supporter of banning drug paraphernalia although without them, people may catch HIV/AIDS, HCV and other blood borne diseases. They also prevent breathing in dangerous chemicals found in home made bongs. It’s really bizarre that these items would be banned when there is no proof that they increase the use of drugs. Such mindless decisions effectively put the lives of thousands of people in jeopardy.
Quite some years ago while visiting an outer Brisbane suburban shopping centre I was surprised and shocked—maybe because of my sheltered existence—to see in the window of a shop a large display of bongs, pipes et cetera
so I am very pleased to see the adoption of any measures[banning drug paraphernalia] that may reduce drug taking.
--Desley Scott MP - Health And Other Legislation Amendment Bill (Hansard) - May 2007
Are Queensland politicians too ignorant to be making important decisions about a subject as complex as drug use? Apart from the carnage caused by ignorant political decisions around the world concerning drugs, there is the issue of selfishly promoting a “Tough on Drugs” policy because it is often a vote winner. This raises that old conundrum - if a politician supports current drug policies because they really believe they are effective then they are just too thick to be making important decisions for millions of people but if they know that current drug policies are failing miserably yet still push a “Tough on Drugs” approach then they are blatant liars and should never be trusted, especially in a position of power.
She[Police Minister Judy Spence] says the detection shows police are successful in keeping drugs off Queensland streets.
--ABC (June 2008)
A recent survey by McNair Ingenuity Research has claimed Queensland as the drug state of Australia. If drug policies over the last 60 years were even mildly successful, there would be a small decrease in drug use and supply. But the fact is, drug use has increased at least 1000% since then with drugs being cheaper, stronger and easier to get. Why Queensland politicians just keep applying the same tired, old strategies needs to be examined carefully. Face it, no one would keep their job if they kept suggesting the same plan that had seen losses increase every year for 6 decades. In fact, the company would have gone broke unless they tried an alternative. The difference is that we are talking about people’s lives.
That is policy nonsense to suggest we'd be going there. In actual fact, that is the antithesis of what we believe in when it comes to the issue of addressing the scourge of drugs.
Both parties are blindly anti-cannabis and consider it as dangerous as hard drugs like heroin. This puts them at odds with a changing world community that is not only relaxing cannabis laws but using it for the treatment of many illnesses. And since cannabis is at the heart of the DFA report, the end result is not looking very promising.