Challenges in reducing cannabis-related harm in Australia

Wayne D Hall
Drug and Alcohol Review 2009, 28 (2): 110-6
This paper outlines the major policy challenges in reducing cannabis-related harm in Australia. The first is uncertainty about the health effects of cannabis, especially in young people. The second is uncertainty about the extent and severity of harms attributed to cannabis prohibition by its critics. The paper summarises and briefly states the extent of these putative harms to the degree that the data allow. The third challenge is a consequence of the first two, and the very different weightings that proponents of more liberal or restrictive policies give to harms arising from cannabis use and those arising from prohibition, namely, strong disagreements within the community about how we should respond to cannabis use by young people. In the face of such disagreement the formulation of cannabis policy necessitates a political compromise. The compromise that has emerged is a continued prohibition of cannabis production, sale and use, combined with either civil penalties for use in some states and reduced penalties or diversion in others. It concludes with suggestions about what needs to be learned about the health effects of cannabis use and the costs and benefits of cannabis prohibition if we are to develop policies that are more effective in reducing harms caused by cannabis use.

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