The issue of legalization of cannabis a has been controversial for many years with one side arguing that it is relatively harmless while the other claiming that its legalization will result in huge risks and major health problems. One of the leading countries in the legalization of marijuana has been the United States with many states legalizing it for medicinal and recreational use. However, Australia has been slow in adopting its use with legislations covering importation and cultivation of medical cannabis being passed in early 2016 (Jolly, 2016). This is despite the fact that the drug is the most illicit drug in Australia with more than 10% of people between 16 and 65 using the drug according to 2014 statistics. Although the use, cultivation, or possession of the drug is illegal, there are many advantages and disadvantages for its legalization in Australia.
Advantages of cannabis legalization
The pro-argument for the legalization of cannabis in Australia has been its medicinal value. Research indicates that the plant contains some compounds that have varying psychoactive effects. One of the most important compounds in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol also known as THC. A review of various peer-reviewed medical articles suggests that cannabis and other cannabinoid compounds are perfect in relieving nausea and pain from chemotherapy for cancer patients. Furthermore, medical cannabis is prescribed as appetite stimulants in AIDS patients, pain reliever in multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Moreover, the study indicates that the THC compounds in cannabis are effective in preventing epileptic seizures because they bind to the brain cells that are associated with regulation of relaxation and excitability. In Alzheimer patients, active compounds of the cannabis plant slow the progression of the disease by slowing the formation of amyloid plaques. Furthermore, active compounds in cannabis can be used in slowing the progression of glaucoma because it lowers the intraocular pressure of the eye that is caused by the disease (Killalea, 2017). Australian Drug Foundation concurs with the research that medicinal marijuana usage relives pain and spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy even in low THC values.
The people in support of cannabis legalization in Australia indicate that its legalization will lead to increased government revenue. Economic theory suggests that decriminalization and legalization of cannabis by taxation and regulation would be an alternative tool to providing tax revenue for governments. For instance, in the US it is approximated that the taxation and licensing of cannabis could generate a revenue of about $8. billion. Furthermore, legalization is a good way to establish the market at a reasonable price. Cuts on spending on the costs of prosecution and the drug law enforcement are an added advantage (Evans,2013). Legal distribution and taxation of cannabis is a good way to decrease costly enforcement and incarceration fees. Also, since the demand for cannabis is growing, it would be beneficial in times of economic recession. This is because it would help in paying off some government debt and record proportions. Also, income from additional taxation in secondary industry related to cannabis is an added advantage. Studies done by various organizations indicate that demand for the drug would increase government revenue, reduce incarceration costs that would be used on more important projects, create employment, and promote consumer safety.
Disadvantages of legalizing cannabis
Continued and excessive use of cannabis has been shown to lead to addiction, problems with the cognitive and psychomotor functioning, and illnesses in the respiratory system. Dependence on the drug afflicts around 10% of all users mostly teens and youths. The people who use the drug at a younger age possess the highest risk of cannabis addiction. The number of cannabis users had increased from14.4 million in 2007 to 17.4 million in 2010. Among these users, the dependence of the drug had increased by about 4.5 million users with prevalence high among unemployed adults. Addiction to marijuana poses significant health consequences. It interferes with the cognitive and psychomotor functioning. Furthermore, prolonged use of marijuana affects attention span, psychomotor performance, and memory (Volkow et al., 2014). Frequent use of marijuana is likely to reduce learning performance, motivation, and affect work and study. Additionally, cannabis use is likely to interfere with mental health. It may trigger psychiatric illness and result in mood disorder, clinical dependence, and latent schizophrenia. Also, the frequent use of marijuana has been associated with the development of low IQ this is because it interferes with the intellectual functioning of the user. Research indicates that the continued use of marijuana impairs with the cognitive part of the brain lowering the speed of information processing which may lead to a drop in IQ by about 8%. A study by RAND research center in 2010 concluded that frequent marijuana users performed poorly in cognitive abilities such as verbal fluency (Kilmer and RAND Drug Policy Research Center, 2010).
Additionally, marijuana is likely to have a negative impact on public safety. Research indicates that long-term and short-term use of marijuana is likely to cause cognitive impairment which affects attention span, sensorimotor functioning, self-control, learning, and memory. Attention and sensorimotor deficits undermine the ability of the user to engage in complex tasks such as the operation of machine and driving. There have been accidents due to driving under the influence of cannabis that has been associated with the reduced reaction speed, lane-weaving, and paying less attention while on the road.
Moreover, the use of marijuana may affect the economy due to illness, absenteeism, and employee turnover. Although the performance may vary depending on the individual, continued use of marijuana is likely to result in more industrial accidents by more than 55% and absenteeism by 75%. Poor productivity has an impact on the public budgets. A report released in 2011, indicated there were about $193 billion in annual losses due to absenteeism, illness, crime, low productivity, and accidents resulting from the illicit use of drugs among them marijuana in the US. Additionally, a study conducted by National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University indicated that the government expenditures towards shoveling the budget of the continued failure of preventing drug use by implementing strict drug legislation have increased.
Another disadvantage of legalizing cannabis is that it would increase the risk in the public health sector system. Frequent and continued use of marijuana does not only cause dependence on the user but poses a significant risk to the public and the family members of the consumers. With over 4.2 million users who are dependent on the drug, the treatment costs for treatment of cannabis dependence weigh heavily on the public health system. Cannabis users are seeking treatment for addiction, and their visits to the emergency rooms have increased in the recent years (Cannabis Use and Dependence: Public Health and Public Policy, 2004). The treatment of marijuana dependence is costly, and it is likely to affect the economy negatively. Treatment admissions are likely to increase by up to 4.8million with the increased number of users in the near future. Furthermore, the users who are not still dependent on the drug are still prone to accidents, illnesses, and crime compared to non-users of the drug. Therefore, with legalization, the number of users is likely to increase due to the ease of access and the public health sector needs to be prepared to handle more cases of dependence and emergency treatment associated with the drug.
In conclusion, the legalization of cannabis in Australia can have advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages include ease of access to the drug for medicinal purposes and improvement of the economy due to taxes from selling and handling the drug. Furthermore, the legalization of marijuana could create employment opportunities in the cannabis industry and reduce the spending on costs of prosecution and law enforcement. However, despite these advantages, the prolonged use of marijuana has been associated with health risks. They include addiction problems, problems with the cognitive and psychomotor functioning, and illnesses in the respiratory system. Additionally, with legalization, there is likely to increase access which would be detrimental to the young population because they are the highest consumers of cannabis. Some of the areas that would be significantly affected include school and employment sector. Various studies that have been conducted currently indicate that marijuana dependence among the youth is increasing absenteeism at the workplace and affecting the productivity of employees. Additionally, the increased admissions for treatment of addiction is likely to burden the public health sector system.
Cannabis Use and Dependence: Public Health and Public Policy. 2004. Addiction, 99(6), 786-786. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2004.766_2_2.xEvans, D., 2013. The economic impacts of marijuana legalization.
Kilmer, B., and RAND Drug Policy Research Center. 2010. Altered state? Assessing how marijuana legalization in California could influence marijuana consumption and public budgets. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Drug Policy Research Center.
Killalea, D. 2017. Medical marijuana legal in Australia: What it means for you. http://www.news.com.auJolly, N. 2016. How close are we to marijuana legalization in Australia? Guide. Retrieved 7 October 2017, from http://www.sbs.com.au/guide/article/2016/12/02/how-close-are-we-marijuana-legalisation-australia.
Volkow, N.D., et al. 2014.Adverse health effects of marijuana use. New England Journal of Medicine 370(23): 2219-2227.print
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