An argument against Cannabis Prohibition in Australia
“New Drug That Maddens Victims — WARNING FROM AMERICA.”
Cannabis seeds first arrived on Australian soil in 1770, on a First Fleet ship containing cargo marked for ‘commerce’. It was Sir Joseph Banks, the English botanist whom the native tree, Banksia, is christened, also a critical consultant for the colony of New South Wales, who saw the potential for this crop to be grown commercially for medicine and textiles.
From that point, and up until the 1920s, Cannabis was widely advertised and consumed, primarily for medicinal reasons, with little regulation from colonial authorities.
Medicinally and recreationally, colonial citizens benefited from 150 years of cannabis consumption. It’s uses ranging from creative aid to cures for asthma. Chlorodyne, a combination of cannabis and morphine, quickly became the panacea of choice well into the 1930s.
Attempts to ban the over-the-counter sales of narcotics back in 1904 were met with national outrage that Chlorodyne was included, with people arguing that access would be made too difficult for those living rurally.
After World War I, Australia hesitantly signed the Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs which would introduce the start of prohibition with a blanket ban on heroin and restrictions on cannabis which would allow it for medicinal purposes only.
However, by 1938 newspapers across the nation would be splashing the headline:
How it started
America was in a panic. Still recovering from the Great Depression of 1929, American attitudes towards immigrants seemed to be shifting towards xenophobic, the economy was poor, and work was scarce.
The United States had a long history of cannabis cultivation, in fact, Washington himself wrote in his diary entry for 7th August 1765:
“Began to separate the Male from the Female hemp at Do. — rather too late.”
Nevertheless, centuries of cannabis cultivation in America was about to come to a screeching halt, shifting attitudes would ultimately turn cannabis into a scapegoat for Xenophobia; and in the 1930s claims began arising linking ethnic minorities, already at the mercy of repression and exclusion, with the drug.
In 1931 Dr Albert Fossier published an article in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, which made claims that the ‘baneful influence’ of ‘marijuana’ was not restricted to individual people.
Rather, it had a hold over entire nations; the petition went on to highlight that ‘dominant’ and ‘enlightened’ nations used alcohol, while countries that were once the ‘heights of culture and civilisation’ became addicted to cannabis and therefore deteriorated physically and mentally.
Henry Anslinger, head of the Federal Narcotics Bureau (now the DEA) at this time was unforgiving and implemented harsh laws resulting in unreasonable prison sentences, ultimately leading to America’s rapid expansion of prison population, and its exploitation.
Anslinger and Nixon’s War on Drugs had devastating consequences, displacing millions of people across America, mostly from minority ethnic groups with significant disparities seen in Mexican and African American communities, today over 70% of the nation’s prison population is Black or Latino.
This was less of a ‘War on Drugs’ and more of a ‘War on Culture’, designed to exterminate the radical freedoms of people of colour.
I can hear you asking:
“What does this have to do with Australia?”
The simple answer? Everything.
The Smith’s weekly article, influenced by the United States Bureau of Narcotics reefer madness, introduced Australians to a “new” drug, the exotic narcotic Marijuana, which allegedly caused all forms of sexual depravity and moral ambiguity.
“Under the influence of the newer drug, the addict becomes at times, almost an uncontrollable sex-maniac, able to obtain satisfaction only from the most appalling of perversions and orgies. Its effect is the same on either sex.”
Moral panic ensued, cannabis was outlawed and condemned as a menace to society —it became a major social issue. The aftermath was like that of America, with racial minorities finding themselves on the front lines. Traditional morals and lifestyles were beginning to clash.
I would argue that all this hysteria, piled on top of restrictions and difficulty to access medicinal cannabis — introduced by the Geneva Convention — transformed the cannabis user into the criminal.
Cannabis prohibition started leaning towards the criminal justice system during the fifties and sixties when social and political opposition to the Vietnam war began to rise.
Cannabis was eventually classed as a schedule 4 drug, and medicinal access was removed.
A ‘counterculture’ of disillusionment and disaffiliation had begun. The seeds student activism began to sprout, and along with it came feminism and a desire to be more culturally inclusive.
Composed of the disconnected and displaced, a collaboration of subcultures coming together. Not in an attempt to seize power, but by demanding personal autonomy.
Almost six decades later Australians are still paying the price of prohibition. Hemp seeds and protein were finally approved as food products by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand in 2012.
Unfortunately, it would be another five years before the Australian Government would again allow access to medicinal cannabis, following trends from around the world. Access that would force patients to sell their homes to afford the privilege of undergoing months of red-tape to receive their medicine.
Those who can’t afford the consultations or prescriptions, or who cannot find a doctor willing to prescribe the drug are forced into criminal activity, either by resorting to the black market or taking the risk to grow it themselves.
January 31st, 2020, will see the first state in Australia legalise possession and cultivation of the plant for adult personal use in the Australian Capital Territory.
However, it should also be noted that the Federal Government has already threatened to make arrests under Commonwealth law and that the purchasing of seeds or flower will still be deemed illegal.
I suggest a holistic approach is required, one that stops the mass incarceration of minority ethnic groups and persons with disabilities. It is my opinion that cannabis use should be legalised for adult consumption under regulatory laws such as those for alcohol and tobacco.
I also suggest a paradigm shift, viewing cannabis use as a public health concern, not a law enforcement issue with a focus on education. While some states do offer drug diversion programs for first-time offenders caught with small amounts of cannabis, laws are also murky — they differ from state to state.
They are, for the most part, at the discretion of police, allowing for individual ethnocentric perceptions to influence the decision to incarcerate a person and an argument for entrapment.