Labor and the Greens have combined to defeat a move to ban the sale and display in Victoria of bongs (special water-filtration devices for smoking cannabis).
A private member’s bill to ban bongs was moved in the Victorian parliament’s upper house, the Legislative Council, by Democratic Labor Party (DLP) MP Peter Kavanagh.
His proposed legislation, if passed, would have brought Victoria into line with other states in Australia.
The Victorian state Opposition supported Mr Kavanagh’s bill, but the combined vote of the ALP and Greens defeated it by 20 votes to 16.
Mr Kavanagh commented that the defeat of his bill has sent the wrong message that smoking cannabis is acceptable.
Allowing the sale of bongs and related equipment, which clearly are used for illegal drug use, shows that the Victorian Labor Government, together with the Greens Party, refuses to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating the harmful impact of cannabis on users’ health.
Australian governments, both federal and state, and of all persuasions, spend much time and taxpayer’s money to urge tobacco smokers to quit; yet Victoria has undermined its own quit campaign by allowing bongs to be sold and displayed in public.
In contrast, the Western Australian Coalition government, in August 2009, announced a policy of banning bongs and related paraphernalia, which included a $10,000 fine.
Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett said that 80 per cent of admissions to psychiatric hospitals are drug-related.
The scientific evidence against smoking cannabis is clear and overwhelming. In fact, cannabis is even more dangerous today because it is grown hydroponically, which increases the content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) toxins.
A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry has revealed that a high-THC variety of cannabis called “skunk” is seven times more likely than normal cannabis to trigger a psychiatric illness such as schizophrenia.
Strong prohibitive laws have been shown to deter cannabis use.
A study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in August 2001 confirmed that the main deterrent against cannabis use is its illegality. The authors of the study argued that if cannabis were made legal then its use would become even more widespread.
So Victorian MPs who voted for bongs to be made freely available are effectively facilitating the greater use of cannabis use.
Mr Kavanagh told Victoria’s parliament of his cousin who died prematurely after a lifetime of using prescription drugs that had resulted from cannabis use in his teens.
He quoted recent studies warning that harmful, heavy and habitual use of cannabis is increasing and causing major problems. Children are commencing cannabis use earlier in life and their adolescent brains are at risk of suffering irreversible damage.
A scientific study by Queensland doctor Stuart Reece, in the journal Clinical Toxicology (Vol. 47, No. 6, July 2009), outlined extensive medical research on the effects on users of prolonged cannabis. These effects include respiratory and cardiovascular disorders and bone toxicity. Psychiatric problems induced by cannabis use include lethargy, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and psychosis.
A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 303, No. 19, May 19, 2010) recounts a confession of a biomedical scientist specialising in drug addiction who himself was addicted to cannabis.
A daily cannabis habit over 10 years which led to his injecting himself with opioids led to him losing his job and career and being evicted from his house. He earned a criminal conviction and suffered deportation, which will hamper his freedom to travel overseas.
Like many people today, including the Victorian MPs who support the sale and display of bongs, this scientist never considered the likely consequences of cannabis use.
What so many people fail to understand is that cannabis use leads to addiction and that nobody is immune from the irreversible chemical changes it causes to the human brain.
Peter Kavanagh, in seeking to ban the sale and display of bongs in Victoria, has publicly backed the Sweden’s highly successful way of combating illicit drugs by directing users to undergo compulsory detoxification and drug-free rehabilitation. (Herald Sun, Melbourne, April 4, 2010).
Mr. Kavanagh told the Herald Sun that this type of rehabilitation could be funded through the millions of dollars that governments collect from cigarette and alcohol taxes.
“The point is to get a drug-free society. It’s something we desperately need” Mr. Kavanagh said.
Victoria currently spends millions in giving out syringes to facilitate drug-use, under its permissive “harm minimisation” policy. These funds could be diverted into rehabilitation to get drug-users off drugs altogether.
With the Victorian and federal elections coming up later this year, reducing illicit drug use must become a major priority.
David Perrin is the executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.