The movement to decriminalise or legalise cannabis is growing with each passing year as citizens and politicians alike realise futility of prohibition. Drug law reform advocate Matt Noffs has some strong ideas about how to move forward when it comes to cannabis laws with a strong emphasis on public health. He speaks with Arms.
More: Exposing the myths around drug users
It’s coming to the point where people are realising how archaic and stupid Australias drug laws are. The old myths born out of the “reefer madness” mentality of the post-war period are losing their legs as drug users and non-users alike come to terms with the reality of drug use. In their wake is a strong push to rethink drug policy.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Australia will in the next ten years regulate recreational cannabis”
“We know that there is strong public support for the decriminalisation of drugs in Australia,” says Matt. “That is backed up by research from the drug policy modelling program house at NDARC [National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre]. These are academics that know this from national studies. This is not just a poll, this is evidence based on science, based on knowing what the public wants.”
So the support is there (at least in part), but where do we go from here? My initial thought is full legalisation, but Matt thinks differently.
“I don’t like using the word legalisation because I think it’s loaded. I don’t think it’s helped, I think people get scared about that idea and I’m a control freak … I want to see us have more controls of drugs than we do at the moment and I think if we just legalised all drugs we wouldn’t have any control.”
“I don’t smoke cannabis, but I have a lot of friends who do, and a lot of them are smarter than me”
While many people approach this topic from a civil liberties and human rights perspective, Matt comes at these issues from within a health and harm minimisation paradigm. To his way of thinking, the best model for drug policy is one that promotes the health of society.
He points towards a model designed by John Marks that argues for a “middle ground” between total prohibition and total legalisation, which represents what Matt refers to as the “sweet spot”.
“If you go all the way to total commercial promotion of an unregulated legal market, there are problems within that reality just as there are problems in our ultra-prohibitive state right now … What I’d want to see is that sweet spot in John Marks’ diagram that shows that cannabis users are treated fairly – as they should be – but that the market is dealt with in a way that does not encourage use or stigmatise use.”
Although there is a lot to iron out when it comes to policy, there are things we can do on the ground to help this process along. Matt believes the first of these is to combat the negative stereotypes placed on cannabis users.
“I don’t smoke cannabis,” he says, “but I have a lot of friends who do, and a lot of them are smarter than me. They are doctors, they are lawyers, they are journalists — they are people getting on with their lives. Cannabis users are human beings. Growing up in a society where drug users are bad and cannabis users are evil, the easiest way to combat that is reality. There is no doubt in my mind that Australia will in the next ten years regulate recreational cannabis but how we do that will be interesting to see, and I think cannabis users should be at the table when that happens.”
Matt Noffs is doing a talk at Gleebooks about breaking the stigmas around ice use in Australia on September 22. More info here.