Maybe I’m a product of my generation and the drug safety education programs I experienced, but my instinctive response to arguments for the legalisation of cannabis tends to be sceptical. But that is only my emotional response.
I have to also recognise that I have no compelling reasons to support such a way of thinking other than gut feel. Maybe some exist, but I haven’t come across them. I am just uncomfortable with legalisation as a harm-reduction strategy.
But in the face of evidence-based arguments in favour of legalisation, I have to recognise that clinging to an instinctive prejudice without any kind of evidence for my position is not justifiable with logic. Which means my discomfort has no weight in a debate about the merits of legalisation.
So when the Australian Greens launched their campaign to legalise cannabis this week, I would have loved to hear some in depth debate about the pros and cons of such a policy. Unfortunately, to no one’s surprise, this was rebuffed pretty flippantly by the government and most commercial media outlets without really engaging in the issue.
Having come to terms with my unconscious bias, I am ready to be persuaded either way in this debate, but only when I hear some good evidence-based arguments. The only people doing that are the advocates for legalisation, but it seems most of Australia doesn’t care or take it seriously yet.
Painting the Greens as being in favour of drug use and ‘soft on crime’ (which is apparently worse than “ineffective on crime”) are cheap and disingenuous arguments against their policy. The debate is not about whether cannabis is harmful, but whether it would be more effective to treat it like other harmful drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. Perhaps Australia isn’t ready for this conversation yet. Too many have the same unconscious bias as me and can’t look past it, but I suspect this won’t always be the case.
I heard one radio host proclaim this political suicide from the Greens, without bothering to explain why or acknowledge that our current drug policies are ineffective. It pretty much summed up to me why you shouldn’t listen to commercial radio announcers for political analysis. I don’t disagree that this campaign is going to get pretty poor treatment from most media outlets and will be fodder for cheap soundbites by conservative politicians. As a result, I don’t expect this policy to attract a lot of new voters to the party, but conversely I would be surprised if it turned away many Green voters.
More generally, one of the things I admire about Greens candidates is their willingness to stand for policies on moral grounds, whether or not they are going to be popular. Statesmanship isn’t just rolling with every whim and fixation of the electorate (take note Mr Turnbull). It sometimes requires the courage and leadership to speak to the electorate about initially unpopular policies.
Despite my instincts I am feeling myself increasingly persuaded by arguments for legalisation, especially in the absence of coherent arguments against them. I suspect that will be little comfort to the Greens as their message is not really being treated seriously by the media or much of Australia. Still, progress doesn't happen overnight. Likely evidence will continue to mount from around the world and it won't surprise me if we are having a much more serious discussion about this in the near future.