If you think that the police are protecting your children by taking cannabis out of Central Victoria, you’re wrong.
By removing cannabis from society, you ensure that a majority of smokers will look elsewhere to get their high. This may be alcohol, speed or prescription medicines, but for many cannabis smokers, it will be something.
I should know. I spoke to young drug-users. I also used illicit drugs for most of my life. I smoked dope, I used speed and heroin, and, on occasion, I used pills when I couldn’t get hold of anything else. For most of the time, I preferred cannabis to all the other drugs. If there was no grass available, I turned to other options.
Based on responses to the 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, over a third of the Australian population aged 14 years and over had used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime and nearly 20% had used an illicit drug at least once in the previous 12 months.
Marijuana/cannabis was the most common illicit drug used, with one in three persons having used it at least once in their lifetime and 11% of the population having used it in the previous 12 months.
There are no real statistics to show what happens when police reduce the amount of cannabis in any area, but by interviewing some local marijuana users, I found there is a trend to move towards other substances to get ‘high’.
Neil X, a 16-year old cannabis user says, “…when I can’t score some dope, I turn to alcohol or speed to get off.” A poll conducted by High Times magazine in the US seems to confirm this is the case. Australian substance-abusers likely follow the same trend, although no formal studies have been done so far.
In the UK, “[A]lcohol consumption causes far greater harms to the individual user and to society than does the use of cannabis,” according to a review published online in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the journal of the British Association of Psychopharmacology. The trend (when cannabis is unobtainable) to move towards drinking is alarming.
Researchers determined: “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to [individual] users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society).”
Neil X says that he just wants to get high, and if he couldn’t, then the next best alternative is alcohol.
“I’ve done some really stupid things when I’m drunk,” Neil says. “I’ve damaged property, I’ve gotten into fights, and I’ve stolen things just for a laugh.
“My friends are the same,” he says. “We all prefer a smoke, but sometimes we can’t get it.
“Then we go out and buy some piss and get drunk.”
Neil is one of many young smokers who turn to other substances when cannabis in unavailable. He makes no apologies for his behaviour.
“It’s normal,” he says. “All me[sic] mates do it.
“If we can’t get stoned, we get pissed. It’s not as much fun, but it’s better than nothing,” Neil says.
He goes on to tell me that other substances, such as speed or prescription drugs, are another alternative for him.
“I’ll raid me[sic] Mum’s pills, or steal from her purse to score some goey [amphetamines],” he says.
“It’s all the same to me and me[sic] mates. As long as we get off our heads, we don’t give a f***,” he laughs.
When I asked him what he preferred to use, he replied: “Out of all the shit, I’d rather sit around and have a bong [marijuana pipe], but if it ain’t there, I’ll do whatever it takes to get off.
“When we smoke, we just sit around and talk and laugh,” Neil says, “but when we use goey or pills or get pissed, we always end up in trouble.”
The opportunistic rationale of most drug-dealers means that if there is no cannabis available to sell, they will source other drugs to ensure their weekly profits are as unaffected as possible.
In this case, other drugs may include speed [amphetamines], ecstasy or prescription pills. When the drug-users arrive to score cannabis, the seller informs them that he/she has none. He then goes on to suggest trying something new.
I’m aware that this article could be misread as supporting the sale and use of marijuana. This is not the case. It is simply an attempt to look at the practice – and ramifications – of taking out of circulation the most visible and prolific drug in Central Victoria.
From personal experience, the best ways to deal with illicit drug use are education and changing the forces in society that create the ennui and alienation that ensure there will always be a drug culture within certain sections of our society, both young and old.
Alcohol, prescription medicines and amphetamine-based substances are much more prevalent than many realise. The harms inflicted on both individuals and the community by these substances are many and varied. My question is: shouldn’t the police be concentrating on removing these more harmful substances, rather than focussing on cannabis?
*This piece was written for an assessment task on feature articles for my journalism subject at TAFE.