Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Health Christopher Pyne announced Monday that all state and territorial governments had signed on to a federal plan to create a tough, uniform set of marijuana laws as part of a crackdown on cannabis. In making the announcement, Pyne also made the bizarre claim that marijuana is "as dangerous" as hard drugs like heroin or cocaine.
In recent years, some Australian states have reformed their marijuana laws, moving toward decriminalization or ticketing schemes. The national government of Prime Minister John Howard has opposed these moves and called consistently for a harsh law enforcement approach toward the county's estimated 1.8 million pot smokers. Now it appears nearer than ever to getting its wish.
The announcement came after a meeting of the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, which also endorsed a national strategy on alcohol abuse and said it would over the next six months develop a plan to tackle amphetamine use. The council also declared war on "drink spiking," or the placing of drugs in beverages without the knowledge of the consumer.
But it was marijuana that was on Pyne's mind Monday. At a post-meeting press conference, he said the national cannabis strategy would target production, supply, and use, and would try to reduce public acceptance of the weed. But he acknowledged that the federal government cannot craft state marijuana laws; the states and territories must do it.
"The council has decided there should be a consistent approach to offenses," he said. "The commonwealth has a very clear view and it is up to each state to visit the subject of their offenses and penalties. I don't think any state right now has a perfect set of cannabis laws that send the message that the commonwealth thinks should be sent to the community. We have to treat it as an illicit drug as dangerous as heroin, amphetamines or cocaine," Pyne added.
The Australian government is trumpeting alleged links between marijuana use and mental illness despite the weakness of such findings. In fact, it is preparing to spend $21 million over the next four years "to alerting the community to links between illicit drugs and mental illness," Pyne announced.
A same day press release from the health ministry was at least up front about what wasn't being discussed under the new cannabis strategy: "The strategy was commissioned by the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy in November 2004 and has been developed within the existing legislative framework. As such, the medicinal use of cannabis and drug law reform has not been included," the release noted.