Top psych lashes cannabis strategy

Australia’s top psychiatry body has attacked the State Government for failing to educate West Australians on the dangers of cannabis and amphetamines, saying the harmful impacts of the drugs had been ignored for too long.

Dr Oleh Kay, WA head of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, said cannabis continued to have severe effects on mental health and the Government had neglected to warn the public of its dangers.

But Dr Kay believed prosecuting cannabis users was not the answer, arguing there was a fine balance between the harm inflicted by cannabis use and harm caused to a person’s life prospects by a criminal conviction. His comments came after the Australian Medical Association’s WA branch last week branded the State’s soft cannabis laws a dismal failure. It demanded much higher fines and an overhaul of “inadequate” education programs to dispel what it believed was a myth that marijuana was harmless.

Dr Kay said police resources would be stretched to breaking point if they were forced to prosecute petty cannabis users and there was no point in having laws that could not be enforced. Instead, he implored Health Minister Jim McGinty to pour money into an education program aimed at highlighting the harmful effects of cannabis.

“We have cut cigarette smoking down significantly in Australia, not by making cigarette smoking illegal but largely by a public education campaign,” Dr Kay said.
The fault in the Government’s policy about drug abuse in WA is that too little is put in the direction of public education, educating people about the risks that are associated with marijuana and with amphetamines. Clearly in terms of public health measures there has to be an issue of primary prevention, of educating people and of them being able to make an appropriate decision. How much education have you seen about marijuana and amphetamines? Certainly a lot less than tobacco and substantially less than alcohol,” he said.

The Government is reviewing its controversial cannabis laws, which decriminalised cannabis use and have been the subject of heated political debate. The review is expected to be tabled in Parliament in November. Premier Alan Carpenter said last week the Government’s policy was producing good results and it would not bow to the demands of every interest group or the rhetoric of a particular sector.

Dr Kay said the public must be made aware that cannabis use was the cause of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. We are talking about vulnerable population groups that are particularly at risk, those that have a predisposition to developing serious psychiatric illnesses but there is also the issue of lung disease associated with smoking cannabis,” he said.

Source: August 2007

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