Beer by any Other Name

By Eliot Metherell

Eliot Metherell tells us why marijuana use should be legal and why the government should not patronise those who wish to use it.

For a nation with a proud culture of inebriating ourselves on national holidays, birthdays, festivals and at sporting events of all kinds, Australians are curiously wary of inviting other drugs into our lives. Much of this is historic, we are and always have been a country of drinkers and our International ancestors were not shy of a drop either. When it comes to drugs, however, alcohol is often put in a category of its own while marijuana and countless others are thrown unsorted onto the legal blacklist of “illicit substances”.

The concerns raised by most when it comes to legalising these drugs; more usage, damage to health and the ephemeral ‘social cost’, are genuine yet misguided. Just as most of us in our younger years were cautioned or forbidden from doing something by our parents only to do it and survive without so much as a scratch, the present drug laws seek to ban us from making decisions about the maintenance of our own wellbeing purely because a risk of harm exists. In places where marijuana has been legalised such as The Netherlands, the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington and indeed within our borders in South Australia and the territories (where small quantities of both crop and plant are legal) there is no widespread health or addiction problem associated with use of the drug, indeed usage rates fell markedly in both Holland and the U.S. as the forbidden fruit lost its alluring mystique. As for the social cost? Ask any Dutch person you come across about the social problem of having legal marijuana in their country and you will get a very consistent response – there isn’t one.

Each year, as state governments across Australia ponder the balancing point between our liberty as citizens and the perceived consequences of legalising marijuana, our favourite, perfectly legal drug of all will kill 5,500 people and send a further 155,000 to hospital. When the words “kill 5,500 people” and “perfectly legal” can appear in the same sentence with only a half-formed whisper to suggest banning the cause then one has to wonder why we are so concerned with the legality of marijuana which, despite a popular illegal following in this country, has not one death attributed to it. Alcohol has been our drug of choice for centuries despite the countless millions of deaths, direct and indirect, caused by it and with exception of the failed Prohibition there has been no coherent voice against it and for good reason – we enjoy it and the harm it does to us is inflicted of our choosing. Yet, because marijuana is not a part of our culture, we limit the freedom of those who enjoy it in the same way they enjoy a drink with their friends.

We are not children; the government is not our parent. You have a right to pursue life as you wish to live it and it may well be that doing so involves a risk to yourself, whether your risk lies in drugs like alcohol and marijuana or in dangerous hobbies (extreme sports, anyone?) is a choice for you to make. Nobody has the right to tell you what you can or can’t do with your body and threaten punishment for disobedience.

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