A few reasons why cannabis law reform makes sense.

Industrial Hemp crop 940x627Last week’s edition of The Shepparton Adviser included an article about a local group working for law reform.

There are a number of reasons why cannabis should be legal. What it really boils down to is that we can’t afford for it not to be.

Millions of dollars each year are spent policing, trying and incarcerating people for cannabis offences. If it were legal, that could go toward prevention of violent crime or simply reducing the load for overworked police officers. Legal marijuana also reduces other problems because there’s less organised crime.

If a person is on welfare they’re paid at best maybe $20,000 per year. All of that goes directly back into the local economy. They buy food, pay rent etc. It all gets spent supporting local business and retirees who have their super invested in property. In contrast, keeping someone inside is costing the taxpayers anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 every year. Public prisons are very expensive. Private prisons even moreso. They’re subsidised by the Government and owned by multinational corporations. That’s a *lot* of resources locked up or going overseas instead of keeping local communities alive.

Perfectly normal woman wearing clothes made from hemp.

Perfectly normal woman wearing clothes made from hemp.

If people are locked up they’re not there for their family. They’re not there for friends, work and everyone else. Not only while they are in prison but when they get out and find it much harder to go back to work because of the record. Why criminalise people like that over grass? In terms of both economic and human costs it’s cutting off our collective nose to spite our face. The point of Corrections was supposed to be correction, not profit making for some overseas business.

Another cost is health. Australia’s public health system is constantly looking for ways to cut costs. If marijuana were legal people could be using it to manage conditions including MS, Alzheimers, PTSD, chronic pain and insomnia. This would save the PBS millions of dollars. It would reduce ongoing costs because of less side effects. Marijuana is safer than aspirin. Seriously. People can die from taking aspirin. A person taking marijuana for chronic back pain has none of the risks of organ damage as if they were taking prescription pain-killers, for example. You physically cannot consume enough cannabis to poison yourself. What about the cost of treating side effects or addiction? That doesn’t add to current costs because they’re being treated anyway. If anything, the reduction in stigma and legal threat means that people will get treatment earlier and again reduce ongoing costs. Few of the population use it regardless of it’s legality anyway.

A man wearing hemp clothing with no ill effects.

A man wearing hemp clothing with no ill effects.

Years ago there was a study done that linked marijuana use to potential development of schizophrenia. This was seized upon to whip up a frenzy and put more money in the pockets of Big Pharma. Again, at the taxpayers’ expense. In fact, marijuana acts on the brain’s own receptors and may be self-medication before the disease shows up. There are ongoing studies trying to establish this at the moment. This is a health concern in terms of usage or maybe a contra-indication for a very, very small percentage of people. It’s not a legal grounds. If it were, none of the anti-depressants, painkillers or asthma puffers prescribed in Australia now would be legal. None. If there were no potential harmful effects they wouldn’t be available by prescription only. Beer, coffee, salt, sugar and ibuprofen wouldn’t be available either because some people can’t have those safely.

Health care and legal costs would also be vastly reduced when it comes to outcomes of violence. Every weekend ER rooms are full of people who’ve been in fights, often associated with alcohol. Marijuana use doesn’t result in the same likelihood of violent behaviour and it can assist people trying to deal with addiction to alcohol and harder drugs. Rather than being a “gateway drug” into worse things, it helps people back out.

Proponents of law reform often cite the potential tax income from regulation but it’s even simpler than that. Setting up a tax structure would cost money and involve paying people to handle all the paper work. It would involve yet another costly bureaucracy. Without regulation we don’t have to pay to set up or maintain that structure. The State, even the whole country, overnight, has billions to spend on other necessary services. Like, um… Oh I don’t know. Ambulances perhaps? If cannabis or hemp products are sold commercially they can be subject to existing GST. Like you can buy beer or home brew it instead. That means minimal paperwork and still plenty of revenue. It’s not like the safety studies would be expensive to do. The enquiry would be pro forma. The work’s already been done.

The house that hemp built.

The house that hemp built.

Then there’s industrial hemp. We live in an area with some big issues with water and markets. Family farms are going under at a rate of knots. People are losing their family properties and homes because of debts, while supermarkets are full of imported cheap food. People are committing suicide over the losses. There’s increasing salinity and acidic ground water. Hemp grows, well, like a weed. Less maintenance while growing. Less problems fighting over water allocation. More income per acre because of the reduced overheads. More income per acre because of the many potential uses. More opportunity for secondary industry which will provide even more jobs.

Let’s have a look at some of those uses. Building with hempcrete is sustainable, local and stores carbon. Making paper or cardboard from hemp reduces the need for logging while providing ongoing, local employment. Fabric made from hemp is durable and comfortable. An Australian farmer has developed a machine that can process the hemp as it’s being harvested so it can be chipped for pulp or spun ready for weaving right there on the farm where it’s grown. This is value adding for an already higher yield, higher profit margin crop. A variety of foods are made from hemp. It’s rich in Omega 3 that we’re used to getting in fish oil. Cooking oil, grain, flour, juice and so forth, all high in vitamins and other healthy goodies.

Bio-plastics and bio-fuel made from hemp reduce Australia’s need to import fossil fuel products. They reduce carbon emissions before we even get to trading schemes. They are less toxic to produce and use. They’re less toxic to dispose of. There is enormous opportunity to develop bio-plastics for stuff like mobile phones, car parts, household appliances and packaging. Considering the growing use of so-called 3D printing, how about a natural, bio-degradeable plastic that is also recyclable for use in 3D printers? Why buy your next smart phone cover from the other side of the world when you can print it up in the study or at the local library? That needs a pretty small tweak of techniques we already have.

Bio fuel question

The other bonuses, aside from the sheer number of uses of this crop, are that it’s grown and used locally. That means less pollution from shipping the stuff by the container load around the planet. It means loads of pollution absorption by the growing plants. The byproducts go into compost to increase farm fertility. It means lots of local jobs for the people who are involved in secondary industry, adding value. People who will design and build the homes made from hempcrete. People who will design, make, market and sell the clothing. People who process and sell the food products. People who make all the various paper products. It’s potentially an organic crop as well, with all the benefits that brings. Add to all that, keeping local farmers on their farms and you have a pretty solid argument for growing the stuff. Especially on the driest continent on Earth. Even moreso while we’re trying to stop exporting jobs.

State of the art law enforcement.

State of the art law enforcement.

Once upon a time marijuana was thought to be a dangerous drug and it was thought that the way to deal with crime was to lock people up or send them to Australia. Now that we know cannabis is safer than alcohol there’s really no reason for it to be illegal. Unless you happen to own shares in a private prison company. It’s like those laws about having to ring a bell in front of your motor carriage so it doesn’t scare the ladies or horses as it passes. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In Victoria I can legally jump out of an aeroplane if I wish and learn skydiving. Or scuba diving. Or take up race car driving. Sure there’s some management issues but we don’t criminalise everything that might be risky or because someone doesn’t like it. There’d be no cars, no beer… No planes. (No priests.)

Right now the Murray-Goulburn region is battling scarce water resources, unemployment and farmers are having to bulldoze orchards. Governments at every level are desperate to cut costs. Premier Napthine’s stand against legalisation may seem rational if you’re living in the 1850’s but not today. We simply can’t afford this pretence. And it really doesn’t bother the horses.

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About Syburi

Witch, bitch, creatrix; hippie, dreamer, gardener. Lover of books, music, rescue animals, piss and vinegar.
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