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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1512

Senator CHAMARETTE (4.03 p.m.) —I want to confine my remarks to one aspect of this debate, which is covered in points 2 and 4 of the AMA resolution from the 1994 national conference. I note in passing that all four points of the resolution are supported by several other groups, including the Public Health Association and the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform. I will not deal with the question of the harm of taking marijuana, but rather with the question of decriminalisation.

  The criminalisation of marijuana use has had several undesirable consequences. If we look first at prison being used as a penalty, we see that it is a hopeless penalty for the individual. It does not help and it exacerbates the problem that it is purporting to address. For people who fear a link to hard drug use, entry to prison is the very best way to encourage that link. Prison should always be the penalty of last resort to protect the community or to protect individuals from being a risk to themselves. Using prison as a penalty does the reverse; it increases the risk to which we will be putting individuals. Whether they are more at risk or not, gaining a criminal record sets people at a disadvantage from the rest of the community for the rest of their lives.

  I move on to using prison as a deterrent. There are two ways of using deterrents. Firstly, there is the specific deterrent—that is, trying to deter people from repeatedly using the drug. I have already said prison does not work in that respect and, in fact, is more likely to encourage or exacerbate use. Secondly, there is the general deterrent—that is, a deterrent to other people who, hopefully, do not use the drug already. It does not work on the right people. It may well lead the people who are making a profit, who are dealing in and distributing marijuana, to go to greater lengths to avoid detection. It may deter them from marijuana use, but it does not deter them from the damaging practices in which they are engaged.

  As Senator Lees remarked, it is an opportunity that encourages our children to lie. To try to protect their own families from the truth that this is a social reality makes it impossible for them to speak out about the current state of our society in relation to the use of this drug. Illegality hinders the positive attempts of looking at the problem of addressing preventative, educative or rehabilitative programs towards curbing the difficulties that are raised.

  Criminalisation also encourages black market trade. It drives the trade underground, and this guarantees exploitative marketing practices. It not only allows countries in Asia to be economically trapped by the demand for drug crops and cash crops, but it also affects people struggling to survive in Australia. Honourable senators would be surprised and disappointed, I am sure, to realise that many farmers can be tempted to get involved right now to keep their families away from of bankruptcy, and use the family farm to gain some cash crops.

  Criminalisation is the wrong end of the problem to begin with. Prohibition should have taught us that. In case honourable senators do not believe me, I want to quote from a newspaper article, which states:

Earlier this year Queensland's Criminal Justice Commission released preliminary data indicating cannabis was Queensland's second most valuable cash crop, with a street value of more than $640 million a year, after sugar cane.

Please do not laugh when I suggest that there are rural people in Australia who are very pressed, and the illegality is certainly not helping them, even though it might be tempting from an economic point of view. I will end by quoting an article by Mark Schneider, a journalist contributor to a column called `Thinking Allowed'. In an article called `Pro-Marijuana' in the Freo Herald of 2 April 1994, he states:

  Like the previous prohibition on alcohol (a vastly more dangerous drug), the prohibition on marijuana achieves nothing. Despite the massive cost of enforcement and the tireless efforts of police and customs, the supply of marijuana is barely affected.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McKiernan)—Order! Senator Chamarette, your time has expired.

Senator CHAMARETTE —I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of the quote.

  Leave granted.

  The remainder of the quote read as follows—

All this activity does is raise the price and make an already illegal industry even more attractive to hardened criminals. It makes criminals out of ordinary people, gives the unfortunate few with a dependency problem a persistent legal problem to boot, and generally makes an ass of the law.

  It's time for change. A reasonable first step to more rational drug laws is to decriminalise the use of marijuana. This has already been done in South Australia and the ACT, where possession of a small quantity results only in a fine—not a criminal conviction.