Pubdate: Mon, 03 Aug 2015
Source: Advertiser, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2015 Advertiser Newspapers Ltd
Author: Cameron England

After decades running a high-profile War on Drugs, America is 
becoming increasingly tolerant of recreational and medicinal 
marijuana use. Chief Business Reporter CAMERON ENGLAND gives you the 
straight dope on the state of play at home and abroad.


AMERICA is once again in the grip of Reefer Madness. This time 
though, it's a mad rush to make a dollar out of the burgeoning legal 
marijuana trade, which has gained strong momentum on the back of a 
wave of legislative change washing over what has traditionally been 
one of the toughest countries in the Western World when it comes to drug laws.

Marijuana, or cannabis, is now legal for both medical and 
recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, and 
according to Wikipedia, 23 states have passed laws allowing some 
degree of medical use of marijuana.

In addition, 14 states have taken steps to decriminalise it to some degree.

Despite the US's well-publicised and long-running War on Drugs, there 
has been a relatively long history of cannabis decriminalisation in 
the US, followed by a wave of legislation legalising medical cannabis.

Marijuana was effectively made illegal under the Marijuana Tax Act 
(1937) with various motives posited for the move.

There are theories that newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst saw 
hemp as a potential competitor to his timber holdings for paper 
making, and that DuPont saw it as a potential competitor to their 
newly-developed product nylon.

Xenophobia has also been cited as a motivation, with the illegality 
of marijuana providing a reason for police to stop and search Mexicans.

The film Reefer Madness, considered one of the worst movies of all 
time, was released in 1936 under the title Tell Your Children, and 
told the story of a couple, living in sin, who sold marijuana. As you 
would expect, immorality and chaos ensued.

The tide began to turn in 1973, with Oregon decriminalising cannabis, 
and Denver's legalisation of cannabis in 2005 heralded the start of a 
significant change in momentum for the push to legalise the 
previously demonised weed.

Even President Barack Obama, who has admitted to smoking cannabis, 
has said he supports decriminalisation, albeit not legalisation.

"We may be able to make some progress on the decriminalisation side," 
Obama told Huffington Post recently.

"At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalising, then 
Congress may then reschedule marijuana."

WHILE states are increasingly loosening marijuana laws, US federal 
law has yet to catch up. The official federal drugs schedule lists 
marijuana alongside heroin and LSD as a schedule 1 drug with "no 
currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse". This 
classes marijuana as a more dangerous drug than cocaine or crystal 
meth, which are both listed as schedule 2 (see breakout).

The result of the increasingly permissive legal and social attitudes 
to marijuana is an industry which claims to be the fastest growing in the US.

Industry analyst ArcView Group has estimated that the US legal 
cannabis market grew from being worth $US1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 
billion in 2014. What this has meant for these states with legal 
cannabis sales is a large, new, taxable industry.

Investors are piling into companies which are growing cannabis, 
producing edible cannabis products and other formulations, and 
entrepreneurs are setting up small businesses selling the products.

This has caused some difficulties with banking, as cannabis remains 
illegal under federal law, meaning it has been difficult for banks to 
provide their services to cannabis businesses.

There appears to be no concerted push to loosen up marijuana laws in 
Australia however, and certainly a commercial industry seems some way off.

Australian laws differ across states and territories, with South 
Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory all imposing modest 
fines for possession of small amounts or growing one to two 
non-hydroponic plants.

In other states police are given discretion to caution people caught 
with marijuana and in some states can offer them diversion programs 
instead of facing a conviction.

LEGAL possession and commercial sales are not possible in any states, 
although trials of medical marijuana are underway in New South Wales 
with patients from Queensland and Victoria able to join.

Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne David 
Penington, writing in the Medical Journal of Australia earlier this 
year, said Australia was lagging in terms of medical use of marijuana.

"We are behind the times on medical cannabis," he said.

"Currently, 23 states in the US have legalised use of cannabis for 
medical conditions, as has Canada since 2001.

"Other countries approving it include Israel, Holland and the Czech 
Republic. Portugal, in 2001, removed penalties for personal 
possession and use of all illicit drugs, but with rigorous 
administrative processes to handle problem use.

"Eliminating prohibition is not a disaster if there are sensible 
processes to control drugrelated harms."

Dr Alex Wodak, emeritus consultant, Alcohol and Drug Service, St 
Vincent's Hospital, said he believed there would be a slow drift 
towards a loosening of marijuana laws.

"I think cannabis should be taxed and regulated with hard-to-get and 
easy-to-lose licences for cultivation, wholesale and retail; proof of 
age at purchase; a ban on advertising and political donations etc. 
But I think all this will take a while. In the meantime I expect that 
punishment thresholds will slowly increase, punishment become less 
severe and the number of arrests will fall."



AUSTRALIA Possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use 
has been decriminalised in SA, the ACT and NT, and is punishable by a 
fine. In all other states the possession of marijuana is a criminal 
offence, but police have wide discretion to issue a caution or refer 
people to a diversion program rather than the courts.

UNITED STATES Marijuana use is legal in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, 
and Oregon, with another 14 states decriminalising it to a degree. 
Also, 23 states allow some form of medical marijuana. But in some 
states, such as Alabama, possession is still a jailable offence. 
Curiously, at the federal level, marijuana is still classified as a 
Schedule 1 drug "with no currently accepted medical use and a high 
potential for abuse". This treats it as more dangerous than cocaine or ice.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom