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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2099

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) - I should like to discuss the increasing concern of the Department of Customs and Excise about apprehending people who bring pot into Australia. It seems to me that by purchasing the various forms of apparatus necessary to catch these illegal importers the Department of Customs and Excise is developing a navy to challenge the Royal Australian Navy. Presumably the reason why one prohibits the entry of such a drug is because it is dangerous. If it is not dangerous there is no reason for not letting it in and not permitting people to use it. I should like to discuss the danger of marihuana and shall quote from the publication 'Medical World News' of July 1971.

Mr Jess - Not again!

Dr CASS - Yes. 1 have already presented some facts but I shall quote a few more. An article in this publication states:

Conspicuous by their absence from today's scientific meetings and the scientific literature are any references to the old theories that smoking marihuana causes anti-social or criminal behavoiur, that it may be addictive, or that it leads users into opiate addiction. At major conferences, such questions arise only during Press conferences, from inexperienced reporters; sophisticated researchers dismissed these once-popular theories long ago.

Some time ago, when I first opened my mouth on this subject it was drawn to my attention that the President-elect of the America! Medical Association had made a statement in which he insisted that pot caused impotence and foetal abnormalities. The Indians have been using it for some time and it does not seem to have done their population much harm. Some time later the President-elect issued an official statement which was published in the American Medical Association 'News' of 12th Aprl 1971. Dr Wesley Hall said:

In a recent Press conference I made comments with regard to the work of the AMA Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse which were widely misinterpreted. 1 am making this statement to clear the air and to restate our AMA position on this important subject. The AMA knows of no evidence to substantiate the statement that marihuana use leads to birth defects and sexual impotence.

What is probably the most current and authoritative body of information is the report of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare issued on 3 1st January 1971.

Dr WesleyHall said that the American Medical Association Council had studied that report and agreed with its findings. What does the report say about various aspects of the use of marihuana? In respect of the suggestion that it can kill a person, the report states:

From the standpoint of lethality, cannabis products must be counted among the safer of the drugs in widespread use. Death directly attributable to the drug's effects is extremely rare even at very high doses.

The report refers to the chronic effects of the drug's use. Most people have discontinued the thought that it causes all manner of acute effects. The report states: .there are many world wide reports of heavy, chronic canabis use resulting in loss of conventional motivation and in social indifference . . .

The report states that in America this is not apparent and continues:

American use patterns are frequently contaminated by the use of other drug substances, making interpretation difficult. It is not certain to what degree this 'amotivational syndrome' is the result of marihuana use per se or of a tendency for those who lack conventional motivation to find drugs unusually attractive.

On the question of progression to other drugs it states:

It is generally conceded that marihuana use does not necessarily lead directly to the use of other drugs. On a worldwide basis there is little evidence of a progression from the use of marihuana to that of opiates or hallucinogens.

In fact it suggests that those people who tend to use marihuana heavily probably are inclined to the use of drugs anyway and it is not a question of marihuana causing progression to other drugs. They use marihuana. They start on cigarettes in most cases anyway. They are also heavy alcohol users, What does our Senate Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug

Abuse say on the matter? After all it was set up to investigate this matter. Of course there is a lot of concern about it in the community. I would like to read some of the Committee's conclusions. I will refer only to those on marihuana. I am not concerned about the hard drugs. I agree with the views about hard drugs in the main. First of all the Committee comments that it has been proposed that the penalties imposed for all drug offences should bear some relationship to the harmful character of the drug involved. In dealing with marihuana itself, this is the Committee's recommendation:

The Australian Government should initiate action for the transfer of cannabis and its derivatives from Schedule 1 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to an appropriate schedule in the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

Psychotropic substances are drugs of a quite different order. The one type is highly dangerous and the other one is the sort of drug that one uses in medical treatment often.

Mr Jess - Do you want to legalise marihuana?

Dr CASS - Hold your horses. Furthermore the Committee makes the following comments:

Pending the results of further research, present restrictions on the restrictions on the use of cannabis drugs be retained in Australia;

In other words the Committee does not suggest that it should be legalised. It then states:

The young first offender brought before the courts be given, by bond and probation conditions, every encouragement to avoid repetition of the offence; the first offender successfully completing conditions of bond and probation be discharged without an offence being recorded;

In other words it is suggested that the taking of marihuana should not be considered an offence if the young person no longer seems to be using the drug, and so on. In my opinion it indicates the relatively harmless nature of marihuana in most people's eyes. Of course, the Canadians in their report indicated quite clearly, when they were trying to find out why marihuana was ever made illegal, that whatever t reason it had nothing to do with scientific evidence. Do not take my word; read their report. That is precisely what they say. I suppose I should revert to this article from 'Medical World News' because it seems to me to cover some of the feelings aroused about this subject. It states: - Legally marihuana has been classified as a narcotic, yet pharmacologically it is quite different. Over the centuries it has been called a depressant, euphoriant, inebriant, intoxicant, hallucinogen . . .Perhaps more than any other drug it is a social irritant that elicits rather remarkable behaviour reactions in both users and nonusers.

I certainly endorse that view. The Canadians, when they published their first report in about 1970, also commissioned a further sub-committee to go into the matter. I will read its findings because they have just been put out. A Press report on the matter states:

A report by the controversial Canadian Committee on Youth has recommended legislation of marihuana for people over 18, with Government controls of its distribution and marketing . . .

The Committee recommended that the cultivation, sale, possession and use of cannabis be legalised, and so on. I think we need to face up to the fact that at the moment, despite the previous history of trying to stop the use of marihuana on the ground that it was dangerous, the latest medical evidence does not find any confirmation of these dire dangers. The situation now is that there is no proof of any danger whatever in the use of marihuana, but there might be. I concede the possibility that there might be, but there is still no evidence.

The tragedy to me is that on the basis of this question mark, this 'might', we are prepared to imprison people and make them criminals. I think that is wrong. I am not advocating legalisation of marihuana at this stage but I believe that we should take notice of what our own Senate Select Committee has suggested and what many American States are doing in fact. They are lifting penalties on the use of this drug. They are suggesting that the taking of marihuana should be no more than a civil offence like a parking offence, and in this way we will cope far better with the problem. Of course, if a person knew he could get his supplies from a chemist instead of from a pedlar we would also do away with the danger of people using this stuff being hooked on drugs.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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