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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1511


Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3.58 p.m.) —I begin where Senator Woods left off, with the idea that somehow we are giving approval to young people to go ahead and smoke this drug if we decide to decriminalise it. I only need to cite the figures in the latest national drug survey which show that half of all 14- to 19-year-olds were offered marijuana in the last year; 25 per cent of them smoked it last year; 40 per cent have smoked it in the past; and one third of the adult population smokes or has smoked marijuana.

  I suggest it is virtually at saturation point now, and we must move to reduce that consumption level. Until such time as we can have open, fair and reasoned debate and, in particular, an open education system in our schools, we are not going to be able to get the message across, as Senator Woods so clearly put, as to the harm that marijuana does. At the moment, because it is not on the table and openly discussed in schools, along with tobacco and alcohol products, it is seen by young people as something that most of them normally do. They are partaking of that type of behaviour without the full understanding of the short-term and long-term damage that it is doing to their health.

  This motion is about harm reduction. We are not going to have schools happy to have an open education program about a substance that is illegal. Indeed, we are not going to have governments openly talking to people and educating the population—because, as Senator Crowley said, that kind of education process must go well and truly beyond schools.

  As a former health educator, I know that in the South Australian education system, with the HIV dangers, we finally got discussion on the injectable drugs back on the table in the classroom. In many schools in other states, in particular in Queensland's education system, drugs cannot be openly discussed. Students cannot come into a classroom and discuss their problems with taking marijuana, or problems that their friends are experiencing, because it is an illegal substance and they could get themselves a criminal record for being in any way involved.

  I would like to quote from a couple of articles, and particularly look at the nonsense with regard to prohibition being the way to reduce the consumption of anything and, consequently, reduce harm. If we look at arbitrary prohibition, we will see that it has failed throughout history. It failed in Turkey, which tried to ban coffee. It failed in America with regard to alcohol. We all remember the TV programs with Elliot Ness shooting machine guns at anything that moved all around Chicago. It has failed in South Africa, where racial mixing was arbitrarily banned. All around the world any attempt to limit illegal gambling and prostitution has failed. We can see from the figures I quoted earlier that prohibition is certainly not working in Australia when it comes to the use of marijuana.

  I turn to the first point in the resolution from the AMA on which we are looking for support today. It states:

1.That, given the evidence of the physical, psychological and social harm arising from cannabis use, National Conference reaffirms the AMA's determination to support any measures, particularly educational programs, proven to reduce its use.

I state very clearly that those full and open education programs cannot go ahead while marijuana is an illegal substance. I move on to the harmful effects of having either a criminal record or being locked away in a prison. As Senator Crowley said earlier, our first case of HIV transmission in gaols has been proven. Drug taking in gaol is an extremely risky activity. Surely we do not want to be locking away 1,300 people for marijuana related offences.

  If we look at the risks of a criminal conviction, we also need to look at the employment prospects of people who have that criminal conviction hanging around their neck—people in their 20s and 30s. I think we need to look at the link between unemployment, which is what they are facing with such criminal convictions, and low health status. This brings me to the second and the fourth points in the resolution of the AMA. The fourth point reads:

4.That, to minimise the social harm arising from the possession of a criminal record, National Conference recommends that, in relation to use, or possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use, a criminal conviction should only be recorded for repeat offenders.

In my last 60 seconds I wish to touch on the statistics in South Australia. What we have in South Australia is not increased usage. I challenge honourable senators to prove that we have, and, with surveys of the population, to compare the usage in South Australia with that in Queensland or in any other state. What we have is a very strict policing practice. (Time expired)