The Economist refers to itself as a newspaper providing expert economic analysis. One of the its stated aims is to “take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”
In a recent article, the paper took a bold shot at cannabis prohibition – mapping out a plan for getting “more bong for your buck.”
Global Moves Towards Legalisation
In 1996, California voted to legalise the sale of cannabis for medical use, and 22 other American states and the District of Columbia followed suit. Last month, our government confirmed it would be legislating to allow the same in Australia.
But what about recreational use?
Around the world, using cannabis for recreational purposes is becoming more and more widely accepted. The Economist argues that countries that have taken steps to legalise the drug are seeing worthwhile benefits. It highlights the fact that regulated markets have:
- Taken profits away from organised crime,
- Saved thousands of young people from having criminal records, removing the associated stigma and impediments towards becoming gainfully employed, and
- Generated tens of millions in taxes.
The Economist also points out that in places where recreational cannabis use is legal – including Colorado, Washington, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, and Uruguay – consumption has not spiked, and there is no increase in drug-related crime.
The newspaper endorses the legalisation of cannabis because of the associated economic and social benefits, saying “Danger and harm are not in themselves a reason to make or keep things illegal.”
At the same time, the paper warns that regulation must be carefully planned – calling the regulation of alcohol and tobacco as “devastating failures.”
Australia’s plans to legalise the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is a far cry from allowing recreational use.
Federal Health Minister Susan Ley was quick to point out that the government’s plan to help severely ill patients with their suffering was not about legalizing cannabis altogether:
“This is not a debate about legalisation of cannabis. This is not about drugs. This is not a product you smoke. This has nothing to do with that.
Most commonly the product is an oil or a tincture that you put on your skin.”
Will Cannabis be Legalised Here?
Community attitudes are fast changing, suggesting that the legalisation of cannabis use for recreational purposes could occur sometime in the future.
However, segments of the community remain concerned about the dangers of cannabis abuse, especially when it comes to young people. Governments around the world, including Australia, will certainly be keeping an eye on longer-term outcomes in jurisdictions where the use of marijuana has been legalised.
However, as voting demographics and opinions about cannabis for medical use change in Australia, the prospect of general legalisation increases. The US Brookings Institution reports that older voters generally hold stronger anti-cannabis views than younger ones.
Closer to home, the Roy Morgan market research company found that university educated Australians are more likely believe cannabis should be legalised. The company also found that only half of Australians voters under 65 believe it cannabis remain illegal.
Only time will tell whether Australia will ultimately move towards realising the economic and social benefits of legalisation, rather than continuing with its futile, and even counter-productive, war against drugs – a war which saps enormous resources from the community and has only proven to benefit those with a vested interest in criminalisation, such as criminal lawyers, tough talking conservative politicians and private prison companies.