Recently, MP Sophia Moermond from Legalise Cannabis Western Australia (WA) had an interesting conversation in parliament.
On Tuesday (August 31st, 2021), she brought up the results of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey. According to the survey, 41% of Australians support cannabis legalisation, while only 37% oppose it. Additionally, more Australians support regular cannabis use than support regular tobacco use (19.6% for cannabis compared to 15.4% for tobacco).
Using these figures as context, she asked WA’s Minister for Police, Paul Papalia, a question: “if WA legalised cannabis, could police resources be used in the pursuit of more serious matters?“
As Papalia wasn’t present, Minister Stephen Dawson answered the question. However, instead of addressing Moermond’s question fully, he deflected. Specifically, he pointed out that the WA police force has “more resources than ever before”, including $1.5 billion in funding and 350 extra police officers. He then states that police apply their resources to investigate offences and enforce WA’s law.
So why didn’t he answer the question?
Perhaps it’s because the topic of policing cannabis is a touchy one. Cannabis is Australia’s favourite drug, and as a nation, we consume a lot of it. Naturally, Australia is riddled with grow houses. And no matter how much effort we put into policing them, we can’t make them disappear.
The futility of the war on drugs is not new news, either.
In 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy argued that the “global war on drugs has failed” as there is little evidence that criminalising drugs had a positive effect.
Experts have also said for years that prohibition causes a lot of social harm. As black market cannabis isn’t quality controlled, cannabis users are sometimes exposed to toxic substances unknowingly. The punishments for cannabis possession also haunt people and deprive them of employment and education. And of course, criminalising a substance stigmatises it, leading cannabis users to face discrimination, violence and abuse.
As Alex Stevens, PhD wrote in this article for Human Rights and Drugs:
…critics would argue that prohibition itself is responsible for a substantial proportion of drug-related harm.
Perhaps that’s why Papalia didn’t answer the question.