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Jan 12, 2012

Australian pot use highest in world; treaties prevent innovation..

This week we have been told by the press that we in Australia have the highest marijuana use in the world, closely followed by the Kiwis. There is little surprise there; the Kiwis are always trying to catch up to us and beat us if possible in everything we are really good at. It’s a fair bet they will fund a study of recreational drug use, try to find out how we do it and try to go one better:
Cannabis is the most widely used drug worldwide, with up to 15 per cent of pot smokers from the Oceania region of Australia and New Zealand, followed by North America and Western Europe. Three papers in The Lancet this week discussed global use and health effects of drugs including cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines and opioids like heroin and methadone.

Melbourne-based Centre for Alcohol Policy Research director Professor Robin Room said existing international drug treaties were not working. "In terms of suppressing the illegal markets, there is very little evidence of success. The illicit use of drugs is very much greater than it was in 1961," Prof Room said.

National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre Professor Louisa Degenhardt said illicit drug use accounts for 1.3 per cent of deaths in Australia -- surpassing alcohol deaths at 0.8 per cent but well below tobacco-related deaths at 11.7 per cent.
While the press seemed to dwell on our high usage there are other aspects to the report that need some additional coverage. The first among these is the odd degree of flexibility in the estimates, such as; (Worldwide) “125-203 million smoke cannabis,” with a 40% variability between the higher and lower figure. It creates some doubt as to whether there is much accuracy involved.

One aspect that needs to change is mentioned in the report, namely that many efforts at drug control are based on knee jerk reactions rather than detailed knowledge. Also some international treaties are inhibiting innovative initiatives:
The report warned that many initiatives to control drug use are based on insufficient evidence. It also said that beyond a certain point, increasing punishment for drug offences has diminishing benefits and can lead to negative side effects.

The report's authors suggest that nations wanting to try new approaches to drug legislation will have to move outside the existing international treaties. They believe the existing international drug control system has not worked.

'The system's emphasis on criminalisation of drug use has contributed to the spread of HIV, increased imprisonment for minor offences, and contributed to legitimising extremely punitive national policies,' their report said. Meanwhile, while NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell avoided the standard political histrionics on needing new and more potent laws, which is commendable, (at least for an MP) he tends to lose the plot in criticizing the report over the fact that doctors are supporting legalization rather than nanny state penalties:
"What's disturbing is in the aftermath of the release of this report, hearing doctors continue to talk about the legalisation of drugs," Mr O'Farrell told reporters in Sydney on Friday. "The link particularly between cannabis use and mental illness has been documented.”

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