The recent Australian debate about the prohibition on cannabis use

W Hall
Addiction 1997, 92 (9): 1109-15
This paper outlines the ethical arguments used in the Australian debate about whether or not to relax the prohibition on cannabis use by adults. Over the past two decades a rising prevalence of cannabis use in the Australian population has led to proposals for the decriminalization of the personal use of cannabis. Three states and territories have removed criminal penalties for personal use while criminal penalties are rarely imposed in the remaining states. Libertarian arguments for legalization of cannabis use have attracted a great deal of media interest but very little public and political support. Other arguments in favour of decriminalization have attracted more support. One has been the utilitarian argument that prohibition has failed to deter cannabis use and the social costs of its continuation outweigh any benefits that it produces. Another has been the argument from hypocrisy that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and so, on the grounds of consistency, if alcohol is legally available then so should cannabis. To date public opinion has not favoured legalization, although support for the decriminalization of personal cannabis use has increased. In the long term, the outcome of the debate may depend more upon trends in cannabis use and social attitudes among young adults than upon the persuasiveness of the arguments for a relaxation of the prohibition of cannabis.

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