WORDS | Ben Nour
Weed, pot, hash, grass, hemp. There are numerous slang words used to refer to cannabis and seemingly just as many films, TV shows and songs about its use with Pineapple Express, Weeds and Afroman’s criminally underrated Because I Got High coming to mind. The discussion for legalisation in Australia for both recreational and medicinal purpose is becoming more heated with Prime Minister, Tony Abbott recently stating he approves of cannabis for medical purposes. The problem lies in the unknown long term effects and that everybody has a different opinion backed up by research, science or personal experience. While popular culture would have us believe all young people who used cannabis are bleary-eyed, couch-confined stoners, some Macquarie University students prove that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Using marijuana started off socially because my boyfriend was doing it, and I saw friends doing it. I guess I liked that scene and the idea of having a laugh with mates, and even the music that goes along with it, like reggae. That was all appealing,” says Jessica, a 21-year-old studying health science at university. “It’s social but also probably a fake pseudo-science thing, but when I have a sore stomach or nauseous, I’ll have a jay and feel better. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it makes me feel better,” she said.
“There isn’t one reason why I do pot in particular. It’s fun to do with a bunch of friends and it’s a good way to relax. Many of my friends smoke but don’t drink”, said 23-year-old Paige.
While it comes as no surprise to learn certain creative types like musicians and actors use cannabis (again, stereotypes), it is less publicly known that established scientists, politicians and business people openly admit to having used or currently kick back with the ol’ Mary Jane (and no, we’re not talking about Seth Rogen).Renowned author, astrophysicist and icon to nerds everywhere, Carl Sagan is known to have used the drug and secretly supported its legislation. Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs admitted to smoking marijuana in the 70s. Most notably, US President, Barack Obama revealed in his autobiography that he used marijuana regularly during his college years.
In Australia it seems smoking a joint has become just as common as having a night out at the pub, with cannabis topping the list of most widely used illicit drugs in the country. It is reported 34.8 per cent of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cannabis once or more in their life. The 2014 Global Drug Survey found that marijuana is the highest produced, trafficked and consumed illegal drug in the world.
However, despite the huge number of people that use cannabis, the drug is still a contentious topic, particularly when discussion turns to the legalisation of cannabis for either medical or recreational use. Why cannabis is so divisive is unclear. The arguments seem to be completely for or utterly opposed. Recent discussion on SBS’ Insight seemed to centre around the unknown effects of medicinal cannabis on children, the potential pseudo effects for pain relief and a call for regulation and legalisation as marijuana is already widely used recreationally.
“I think it’s only controversial because most people see it in the same category as heroin or meth, although in reality it’s safer than alcohol. Anyone who has tried it would agree with me that it’s harmless”, said Paige. Likewise according to Georgia, a 21-year-old law student, the stigma of being an illegal substance somehow makes the drug more controversial than perhaps it should be.“I think because marijuana has the label of ‘illegal’ people think there must be something inherently bad about it. The problem is most of the arguments people use to critique marijuana equally apply to alcohol and tobacco, but because they’ve been deemed ‘legal’ people aren’t worried about them.”
In Australia it is illegal to use, possess, grow or sell cannabis, although the penalties for possession vary in each different state and territory. South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have all decriminalised minor cannabis offences. Citizens caught with a small amount of cannabis can be dealt with by a civil penalty, like a fine, instead of receiving a criminal charge. Meanwhile in NSW, it is unlikely that someone caught with a small amount of cannabis will be criminally prosecuted; citizens caught with up to 15 grams of cannabis may receive a ‘caution’ from the police.
For students Taylah and Scarlet, a lack of appeal and potentially negative side effects of using cannabis are more of a deterrent than the consequences of being caught with it. “I’ve been offered pot before…of course, but I have medical conditions already, and from what I’ve read it could possibly negatively affect my body so I want to avoid that”, said Taylah, a 19-year-old global studies student.
21-year-old arts student, Scarlet adds, “I suppose in my upbringing and schooling life, drugs have always been a taboo and discouraged. But even after this I don’t see the appeal and haven’t seen anything positive other than the fleeting feeling of using it; which isn’t reason enough for me.”
Jessica, Paige and Georgia will be pleased to know that they’re not the only ones who advocate the re-evaluation of cannabis as an illicit drug, and that there is a growing support for the legislation of cannabis. In 1993 the Help End Marijuana Prohibition Party of Australia was founded and as recently as last month the New South Wales government announced a clinical trial of the medical use of marijuana, a move which caused the ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher to urge the Federal government to coordinate a national approach to the legalisation of cannabis for medical use. While the legislation of cannabis for the purpose of recreational use is seemingly a long way off, its legislation for medical purposes is the first step in a long road that may see Puff the magic dragon free to spread his wings.