Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Statement of compatibility

Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) tabled following statement in accordance with Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act:

In accordance with section 28 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, I make this statement of compatibility with respect to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (prohibition of Display and Sale of Bongs) Bill 2010.

In my opinion, the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (prohibition of Display and Sale of Bongs) Bill 2010 is compatible with the human rights that are protected by the charter.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 to prohibit the display and sale of bongs and to limit the display of hookahs.

There is at least one human rights issue addressed in the charter which is possibly raised by the bill. Property rights are dealt with under division 2 of the bill which provides for the seizure of bongs and hookahs and their components in certain circumstances.

Under section 20 of the charter, 'A person must not be deprived of his or her property other than in accordance with law'.

If the bill is passed, any seizure of bongs, hookahs or their components will be allowed only according to law and would therefore would not be contrary to the charter.

Second reading

Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) -- I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Prohibition of Display and Sale of Bongs) Bill 2010 is to discourage the public display and sale of bongs in Victoria. No doubt, even if this bill is passed it will not completely end the sale and display of bongs, but there are still very good reasons for its enactment.

Those reasons include curtailing the harm to physical and mental health done by marijuana, limiting the power of this drug to lead to other even more destructive and addictive drugs and reducing the encouragement that the open display and sale of bongs gives to young people to begin consuming cannabis.

Opponents of marijuana have long been ridiculed by its proponents. Many of us have probably watched the film Reefer Madness at university, for example. Reefer Madness, made in 1936, presented the case against marijuana in ways that seemed absurd to later generations. It has often been shown in more recent times in order to ridicule the film's basic contentions that marijuana is harmful and properly illegal. The style of that film made its warnings appear nonsensical to audiences of the 60s and beyond, but its basic message -- that marijuana consumption is harmful -- is even truer today than it was when the film was made.

The debate in Australia over marijuana has hardly changed in more than 40 years even though, over that period of time, the drug itself has changed dramatically. Marijuana is no longer the relatively mild drug that it was in the 1960s. Its active component, THC, has increased dramatically. Some researchers claim that, through genetic engineering, the THC content of marijuana has increased from about 1 per cent around 1970 to more than 30 per cent in some cases today. During the first quarter of 2009, University of Mississippi researchers reported that the THC content of 'super pot' seized during the period was 27.3 per cent, and some samples had up to 37.2 per cent THC content (quarterly report -- potency monitoring project, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15 March 2009, page 6). Some dispute this degree of increase in the potency of cannabis, but it is clear that whatever the precise degree of increase, marijuana is now much more powerful than it was a few decades ago, even though the public debate and assumptions about marijuana being a soft drug have hardly changed at all.

Marijuana consumption is clearly very dangerous to physical and mental health. In respect of mental health there is an obvious and very strong link between marijuana use and the development of mental illnesses including schizophrenia and paranoia. This is so easily observed among regular marijuana users that it hardly needs elucidation here.

In the face of a huge preponderance of evidence, those who defend cannabis argue that people who are prone to mental problems are the very people who smoke marijuana in the first place. Some proponents of marijuana argue that cannabis merely brings out mental problems among those who have pre-existing dispositions; but is that not being a bit too clever? Does it not amount to playing with words?

The fact is that many young people who are developing mental illnesses would never have manifested or developed such problems if they had never smoked marijuana. Yesterday three ladies visited me in my office here in Parliament House. They told me that among their children they have a total of four or five sons who now have severe drug dependency problems. Those men are now all aged in their early 30s. Those ladies fear that all of their sons will die very soon as a result of drug addiction. They told me that their sons began their many years of drug abuse by using marijuana in their teens and that the majority of them showed clear signs of marijuana consumption by an obvious deterioration in their behaviour, including uncharacteristic aggression and in some cases violence.

In 2002 the British Medical Journal published the results of a study undertaken on cannabis use and mental health in young people (BMJ volume 325, 23 November 2002). The study was based on a review of 1601 middle school students in 44 schools right here in Victoria. undertaken by a team led by George C. Patton, professor of adolescent health at the Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Parkville. The study showed that some 60 per cent of participants had used cannabis by the age of 20, and 7 per cent were daily users at that point.

Daily use in young women was associated with an over fivefold increase in the odds of reporting a state of depression and anxiety after adjustment for intercurrent use of other substances. Weekly or more frequent cannabis use in teenagers predicted an approximately twofold increase in risk for later depression and anxiety after adjustment for potential baseline confounders.

In addition to problems that we all know about resulting from marijuana use, being schizophrenia and paranoia, depression and anxiety are also long-term problems for marijuana users.

The damage being done by cannabis is not limited to the brain. In 2008 Dr Richard Beasley, director of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, and his colleagues reported their findings on the cancer risk of pot smoking in the European Respiratory Journal. They warned of an impending, 'Epidemic of cancer caused by cannabis'.

Their research showed that each joint had the effective carcinogenic power of 20 cigarettes.

On 23 January 2000 the Observer newspaper in the United Kingdom ran an article by health editor Anthony Browne 'US research says cancer more than twice as likely for cannabis smokers'. It stated that for decades it has been the retort of cannabis smokers that dope is not as bad for you as cigarettes or alcohol. But after years of ambiguous research, US scientists now claim it is worse. Regular smokers of cannabis can be more than 30 times as likely to get cancer of the neck, throat, mouth and larynx as those who have never inhaled. Nor does giving up the weed cut the risk. According to the research, quitting does not reduce the damage. This study, carried out in New York, was the first to definitely link the smoking of joints to full cancers of the head and neck.

There are mixed views about the effects of using bongs compared with consuming marijuana without bongs. It is claimed on the one hand that the water in bongs removes some impurities, making the drug less harmful per puff, but that water in bongs also simultaneously removes some of the THC, causing users to take more puffs to achieve the same high.

It is also often passionately claimed that in some circumstances cannabis can have health benefits. There is some evidence that cannabis can also be used in some forms to treat some diseases. This is possibly true. No doubt the introduction of new, effective drugs would be a very welcome development, regardless of their botanical source. It is also true, however, that passage of this bill would not prevent the medicinal use of cannabis in the event that it is found to have therapeutic value in particular cases.

My main problem, however, is the effect that the open display and sale of bongs in Victoria has on the attitudes of vulnerable people. A young person in this situation will observe that the very implements that are specifically designed and manufactured to consume marijuana are openly sold in shops. Surely teenagers who are tempted to use marijuana by the desire to rebel at their age and by claims that it is fun and pleasurable -- which no doubt it is -- take encouragement to use cannabis from seeing bongs openly displayed in Victorian shops. Who could blame that teenager for concluding, when they see shops full of bongs, that Victoria's laws against marijuana consumption are a joke?

Indeed, from this building one can walk not very far at all down Bourke Street, to the second shop after Russell Street, to see this. Two weeks ago I did this and counted more than 200 bongs in the front window, including probably more than 50 different types of bongs, some of which were in the shape of a human skull, for example.

If that young person is encouraged by the open sale of bongs to use marijuana and goes on to develop some or all of the effects of cannabis use, like addictions to other drugs, mental illnesses and physical problems such as tumours in the head, might he be somewhat justified in feeling that his politicians had let him down? Might he not reasonably feel that by allowing the open display of bongs and sale of bongs, members of Parliament had actually suggested to him that there was nothing harmful or wrong about cannabis?

It was widely argued in the past that marijuana leads to the consumption of other drugs of addiction. The three ladies who visited me yesterday told me that all of their sons who are now addicted to drugs began their lifetimes of addiction to a range of drugs, including heroin and ice, by using marijuana. One of my cousins, whom I loved dearly and who was younger than me, died prematurely after a lifetime of using prescription drugs. His father told me recently that my cousin began his drug problems by using cannabis when he was a teenager. He feels sure that his son would be alive today if he had not begun smoking marijuana when he was a teenager.

I understand the passage of this bill will not suddenly put an end to all our drug problems and it will probably not even have a very large impact on the rate of cannabis use in Victoria. Experience in other states suggests that it is difficult to entirely eliminate commercial bongs. It is also not very difficult to manufacture a homemade bong if commercially made bongs become unavailable. Passage of this bill would nevertheless bring some significant benefits.

Allowing the open display and sale of bongs creates commercial establishments that have a strong financial interest in getting young people to use marijuana. This can obviously lead to a marijuana habit, if not addiction, and a progression to addiction to other drugs.

After announcing my intention to propose this bill, one of my brothers told me a story involving his son that I had never heard before.

When he was about 14 years old, my nephew told his parents that after he had got off the train on his way home from school, while wearing his school uniform, the female owner of a shop in a shopping centre approached him and his friends in the vicinity of the train station. She told them that cannabis was a lot of fun but to really enjoy it, they should buy a bong from her nearby shop. This is what she said to a group of 14-year-olds. My sister-in-law and brother were both furious when they were told what had happened. They are people with resources and of intelligence and determination in unusual abundance. They pursued this matter, which resulted in some, though limited, action against the would-be bong seller. Unfortunately a majority of Victorians whose children are abused in this way -- and I think it is abuse of an under-age person -- do not have the wherewithal to take effective action, even in the fairly unlikely event that they ever find out about it.

The three ladies who visited me yesterday told me something that I have heard from many other people -- their sense of helplessness when they realised that their sons were addicted to drugs. They said they find it outrageous that bongs are sold openly. They are frustrated and angry when they hear people suggesting that marijuana is harmless. One of the ladies said it would be less harmful if heroin were legalised than marijuana. These ladies try to help other parents who are beginning to experience what they have been going through for nearly 20 years. They are angry that although they have been dealing with the effects of illicit drugs for nearly 20 years, they say that there have been no significant improvements in the way we deal with drugs during that whole period.

Clearly there are other actions apart from banning the display and sale of bongs that could be taken to effectively deal with drugs, that we are not doing now.

One of the ladies yesterday suggested that a system of linking databases of pharmacists and doctors is necessary to prevent addicts shopping around for prescription drugs that are provided at no cost or almost no cost to users who have health-care cards -- that is, almost everyone who is unemployed, among others.

In my opinion the system instituted in Sweden that compulsorily detoxifies and rehabilitates those with drug habits is the only effective strategy. In the case of teenagers who are found to be consuming marijuana, attendance at a non-custodial, anti-marijuana course like that provided for drink drivers in America could provide an option for desperate parents who presently feel helpless to help their children.

It would be expensive to introduce such measures but one look at our criminal justice system will immediately reveal the costs of not taking such action.

Compulsory detoxification and rehabilitation are the basis of the correct approach, partly because they involve intervention at the earliest stage possible -- the point in time at which intervention is most likely to be effective. Unlike the banning of the display and sale of bongs, such a systematic change to our approach to illegal drugs would require not merely a single bill. It would require changes to dozens of pieces of legislation and to the policies of varied departments -- clearly a task for a government rather than a private member.

Marijuana consumption is extremely harmful to both the mind and to the body. It not infrequently leads its often young consumers to other drugs. It entices those who may not know much better and ends up killing some and robbing others of their mental health. If we fail in our duty to protect the public, especially the young, do we not share in responsibility for the harm it eventually does, particularly to those who were not yet adults when they began to consume this drug?

It seems to me that a person now in his 30s or 40s, for example, who has been addicted to various dugs since his adolescence might reasonably be able to claim that when he was a teenager he knew there were laws against marijuana, but at the same time he also saw bongs openly and legally for sale. He might feel and indeed contend that in making the laws against this dangerous drug seem like a joke by allowing bongs to be openly displayed and sold, politicians failed him when he was a teenager, just when he needed the benefits of the guidance and advice of those who were older and those who knew better -- when he needed our help and advice and guidance.

Might he not be justified in saying that when he was young and inexperienced and perhaps somewhat foolish, those who were elected to use their experience and their wisdom for the benefit of the community, including his benefit, failed to do so? Could he not reasonably say that leaders of his society declined to effectively warn those in need by banning the public display and sale of instruments that clearly have no other purpose than to facilitate the consumption of marijuana?

I commend the bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr SCHEFFER (Eastern Victoria).

Debate adjourned until Wednesday, 12 May.


Peter Kavanagh MLC
Member for Western Victoria
Parliament of Victoria

"La Cabine"
2nd Floor
1 Yarra Street
Geelong VIC 3220

Ph: 03 5222 1503
Fax: 03 5222 8677


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