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Forty years after my first and only arrest for cannabis – not much has changed

Forty years ago, while living in a share-house in Port Stephens (north of Newcastle, NSW), I arrived home from work one evening to a house that was suddenly and inexplicably littered with drug paraphernalia. Of course, I immediately gathered most of it onto the coffee table in the loungeroom and puzzled over it. Then, after a very official pounding on my front door, the house was suddenly full of coppers.

Initially I was interrogated about the bongs, pipes, syringes, and bottles of pills that I had helpfully laid out for them on the coffee table – all before a constable walked in carrying a small planter containing two cannabis seedlings. After which, suddenly and magically, all of the paraphernalia, syringes, bottles of pills, and even any hint of their existence, simply disappeared. I was transported to the Newcastle lockup and charged with ‘Cultivating Indian Hemp’.

When I fronted court the next morning the police helpfully provided the Magistrate with a transcript of a confession that I had (purportedly) made. It seems that I had admitted to conspiring to grow several hundred cannabis plants in the nearby bushland and that I had been planning to sell the drug in the township. Nevertheless, the police had heroically nipped this dastardly conspiracy in the bud. They had also reluctantly decided to proceed with only a cultivation charge, instead of also adding a ‘conspiracy to supply’ charge (but inquiries were still ‘ongoing’).

The Beak scowled, declared that I was so very lucky that I only had driving and alcohol convictions on my sheet, otherwise I would be ‘banged up smartly’. But because this was the case, he was going to ‘go easy’. All before fining me $2900.00 and giving me just one month to pay. (So, adjusted for inflation, in 2022 dollars, I was fined $12,796.19 for two cannabis seedlings that did not even belong to me). Moreover, in those days, if you couldn’t pay a fine you were locked up until you had ‘cut the fine out’ at the rate of $85 a day. Consequently, a month later I showed up at the Silverwater Penitentiary to cut out my fines.

In the same week that I was imprisoned, Dr Kerr opened the National Organization for the Reform of Marihuana Laws (NORML) office (in Seaforth) in Sydney. So, immediately upon release, I fronted at the office and signed up to protest the cannabis laws. A few decades later I would be part of the founding of the HEMP Party. Another decade on and there would even be members of state legislatures that are part of the cannabis law reform movement.

But the moral of this story is hardly uplifting. Four decades after my one and only cannabis charge, not much has changed. The BIG LIE – that cannabis is a dangerous drug – still dominates in our politics, press and social mythologies. The police might be more subtle in their oppression, but they still terrorize cannabis users every day of the week. Being ‘verballed’ in a court room might be a thing of the past, but otherwise law-abiding citizens nevertheless continue to be hauled up before the Magistracy and gaoled or fined on the basis that the state is protecting them from harm.

Four decades later many of my personal circumstances have changed. I am now an academic lawyer. I teach other lawyers about the ‘Philosophy of Law’ and ‘Constitutional Law’. But I am still at the mercy of these unjust and ridiculous laws. I still have to travel overseas to be able to smoke a cone without fear of arrest. I still cannot enjoy a joint legally in this country. And while the politicians rarely still refer to cannabis as being a ‘moral hazard’, the BIG LIE nevertheless still persists. These hypocrites continue to perversely insist that they are protecting us cannabis users from ‘harm’ – by gaoling and fining us!

They can shove their phony concern up their tight sphincters for all I care. This is because, despite the passage of more than forty years, the same knee-jerk bigotries are still everywhere on display.

The bullshit persists, even though, in the intervening years, it has also become obvious to almost everyone in our society (aside from politicians and lobbyists), that every cent spent on policing or regulating the cultivation, sale, and use of cannabis, on the basis that these laws are needed to protect us from ‘harm’, is simply money thrown away. Most Aussies now fully understand that our leaders might as well be burning huge wads of cash in a forty-four-gallon drum, on the steps of parliament house, and justifying it on the basis that they are keeping us ‘warm’.

So, in recent times I have given up on even pretending to be tolerant of all of the bullshit. In recent encounters, whenever any elected official begins to talk bullshit about cannabis in my presence, they are at once interrupted and asked about the ‘harm’ they are proposing to protect me from? I also ask why they seem to show this phony concern about the health of the citizenry when talking about cannabis, but not when talking about rugby, alcohol, paracetamol, fishing, aspirin, parasailing, horse-riding, or sugar?

I then ask them to tell me precisely how it is dangerous? Also, where and when did any particular instance of harm occur? In other words, they will be invited to name just one person – on the face of the globe – who has been killed or maimed by cannabis use, ever.

I feel that such intolerance is warranted. I am simply well past engaging in any sort of hypocritical charade with a bunch of ill-informed liars and fools. I suggest others follow suit. Cannabis is a relatively harmless recreational drug and therapeutic herb. I will no longer watch as moral purists and political partisans continue to highjack the debate and flood the zone with bullshit.

We need to acknowledge that we are not participating in a ‘debate’ that is being undertaken in good faith by all parties. Cannabis law reformers are advocating for the facts; opponents of cannabis law reform are engaging in fear-mongering.

If a politician in 2023 is not aware of the truth, they need to be voted out of office as they are grossly ignorant. If a politician in 2023 continues to insist that cannabis is a dangerous drug – they need to be voted out of office on the basis that they are knowingly lying to the Australian public.

I just want to be able to have a quiet toke at home and not be hassled by the coppers. But four decades of being polite has achieved precisely nothing. I still have to hide my cannabis use. The liars and fools remain in charge. If you think cannabis should remain illegal, and say so in public, you are either a fool or a bigot. So will loudly invite you to mind your own business and stop talking crap.

I reckon the time for tolerating bullshit is waaay past.


Free the weed: VOTE #1 LCA (Legalise Cannabis Australia).




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  1. Baby Jewels

    ” Being ‘verballed’ in a court room might be a thing of the past” Unfortunately, not. The young woman jailed for protesting on the Harbour Bridge was verballed. And they still get away with it.

  2. Canguro

    A well-written essay but not 100% accurate. Provided eligibility criteria are met, availability of ‘medical marijuana’ via prescription and a consultation with a doctor is now a legal reality across the country. There is no mandated method of using this material, thus smoking a joint is permissible. The downside is that even though usage may be legal under certain conditions, driving with assayable THC in one’s body is still an offense.

    And yes, by and large the local laws are a horse’s arse. Despite decriminalisation across the USA, the Big Daddy of onerous drug laws, despite Thailand, Portugal, Uruguay and many other countries relaxing or abolishing proscriptive legislation with regard to the use of cannabis, despite the well-documented health benefits and the fact that this is a far less damaging substance than alcohol, tobacco and a whole range of Big Pharma meds, the bullshit, the ignorance, the closed-minded attitudes persist.

    I would have thought that generational change would bring enlightenment, but it seems to have escaped the current crop of political operatives as much as their forebears.

    Another decade, perhaps? Most of us old farts will be gone by then, but still, time will inevitably bring change.

  3. New England Cocky

    The US chemical corporations got hemp banned to make way in the market place for their ”new fabrics” nylon and rayon. Historically, this was easy to do because at that time hemp was principally used by AfroAmericans rather than EuroAmericans who were still inhibited.

    Roll on to the present day and the main reason for continuing low THC hemp is the colossal government bureaucracies established by successive US government to conduct the Drugs War, the charade of controlling distribution often for the benefit of corrupt law officers.

    Medicinal Cannabis ease many medical conditions. It is time to recognise the medical value of this natural product.

  4. Rossleigh

    As I’ve often argued, nobody seriously thinks of smoking marijuana as a criminal offence. I mean, if you confessed to someone that when you were in your twenties, you were at a party and you actually inhaled some of the evil weed, the worst that some paragon of virtue would do is shake their head and tell you that they’re disappointed.
    On the other hand if a person was to say, “A few years ago when I was in my twenties I was at a party with some mates and we thought it would be fun to rob the local service station. The silly person behind the counter put up a fight and we unfortunately killed him and hid the body in a forest. Of course, I no longer do things like that but they were fun times…”, I doubt that the reply would be that we’ve all done silly things in our young days!

  5. Astrid ONEILL

    Voting for this Party means voting for their lead candidate. I suggest you do some research on him first. I would not even give him my very last preference vote, none whatsoever. The Greens would also legalise cannabis, have been working on their “Sniff Off” campaign for years, have a full set of policies and their candidates can face research into their past. Why not recommend The Greens instead?. I can’t even bring myself to name the Cannabis Party lead candidate.

  6. Michael Taylor

    I’ve asked about medical marijuana with my doctor but she said it isn’t stocked in our area and I’d have to get it from Melbourne. Unfortunately, it’s not on the PBS and is quite costly.

    No other prescriptions have done anything to relieve the pain from sciatica, and the option of surgery is not being considered as the neurosurgeon says that in my case it could be risky and would have only a 50% chance of being successful. And did I mention the cost?

    Hmm, maybe expensive medical marijuana might be the cheapest option.

  7. Andrew Smith

    I concur with Canguru; Oz attitudes and policies may only change when all US, UK, Canada, NZ and EU have legalised and regulated cannabis etc., I won’t hold my breath…. although, good for something maybe the IPA, CIS or AIP, Koch Network think tanks, as in US they promote legalisation because they view drugs as an unnecessary cost to the state and business under their ‘libertarian’ outlook.

  8. Geoff Andrews

    In the mid 1970’s, I wrote away for a copy of a white paper that the South Australian government had just published on the pros & cons of decriminalising marijuana. The authors had reviewed the findings of similar inquiries from around the world.including the USA: the adverse effects including toxicity compared with other drugs; the THC content of leaf, buds, hash and oil etc.
    I believe the paper concluded that the drug was the least harmful of all the illicit drugs and less harmful than many prescription drugs and was habit forming but not addictive.
    I’m sure the paper would be available in any city library collection so if the author would like to intensify his/her campaign, i’d start with the National Library.

  9. James Moylan

    A note for Astrid (and others who have contacted me who share similar opinions):

    I feel that in the last week of an election campaign is not the time for me to canvass these matters in public. Yet, as it is apparent that a great many other cannabis law reform supporters are also similarly flummoxed by the nature of the LCNSW ticket, I do feel that a short response is necessary.

    I agree that the pre-selection process for the NSW poll was mishandled. I also share many of your reservations. I am not a part of the (NSW Party) executive that made these candidate decisions (otherwise the ticket would certainly look very different).

    But please don’t give up on the Legalise Cannabis movement just because of the actions of one state party (NSW) in one election campaign.

    Also look for an article that will canvass all these matters that will appear shortly after the campaign is over.

    James Moylan

  10. Clakka

    In my youth (during the hippy era), I of course was a partaker of ‘dope’ like the majority of my contemporaries, and with community spirit grew a few ripper plants to share freely with my friends. In those days, one was able to partake of a great variety of marijuana-based delights from countries where its use was traditional; Lebanese Gold, South African Kiff (kief), Afghani Black (albeit one had to be wary of opiated versions), Afghani Brown, Sumatra Grass and Buddha Sticks. But these became rarities as the importers faced significant jail terms and fines – the door slammed shut.

    Nevertheless, local growing became ubiquitous, as did its use become trendy and a bravado for almost every member of the 70s party-going community, regardless of social class or status.

    During those years, I maintained a diligence and strong work ethic, advanced my career, and developed an increasing social consciousness. Whilst observing folk wrecking their and their family’s lives with alcohol and class A drugs, the same could not be said of marijuana users. And the causative linkage of marijuana to alcohol and class A drug abuse is a disproved nonsense. The main life affecting hazard from marijuana use was becoming entangled with brutalising police (often running the show) and facing court and the draconian ‘marijuana’ laws and a criminal conviction record – it was for those reasons alone that I drifted away from marijuana, having only a toke once in a blue moon.

    I never experienced any derogative or depletive affect from marijuana. Yet, I accept that its inhalation comes with a health hazard from the deposition in the lungs of tarry substances, and that habitual use by an already vulnerable group of young folk up to early teen years can have a detrimental affect on long-term mental health. Conversely, I am also aware that for a very significant and growing proportion of society’s chronic pain and anguish sufferers (as well as epilepsy and seizure sufferers), rather than the very dangerous prescribed steroids and opioids, marijuana is the self-medication of choice and best effect.

    In early 2020, I was diagnosed with a deadly medical condition. The onset of pain coupled with that of a pair of broken ribs was utterly debilitating. In addition to the treatment for the condition, I was also prescribed a bevy of opioids to attenuate the pain. The opioids kinda worked to deal with the pain, but the side effects were psychologically repugnant, and my inner tweety-bird assessed that they were very dangerous for my general health. Lucky for me I had a friend in the know, who obtained for me, gratis, a single course (2 small bottles) of the Rolls Royce of medical cannabis oil (THC/CBD and CBD only). I had, following her initial advice, immediately cold-turkeyed off the opioids and sufficed on the max panadol dose (also a risk to health) for the few weeks until the arrival of the cannabis oil. The use of that oil per instructions was profoundly effective immediately. Without screaming agony, it no longer took an hour to get into and out of bed, and without fits of disrupted 1 hour sleeps, I could now enjoy a pleasant and restorative full 8+ hour sleep.

    By the time the treatment for the condition adequately kicked-in, and the broken ribs adequately healed, I had finished the most effective small bottle of oil, and needed no more. It had effectively dealt with the pain, enabled me to sleep comfortably and solidly, and overall restored my otherwise very seriously challenged equanimity.

    I told my treating specialist of my use and experience with the oil and he was fine with that. I asked him whether he would ever prescribe it, and he told me that it was risky for him due mostly to the political issues surrounding its application, particularly in the public health system. I told him that the regional Health Service website had a page dedicated to the matter of cannabis oil and of it being prescribable as seen fit by the treating medical professional. He was astounded, and asked me to forward to him the URL to that page – which I did.

    The original interference with the growth and use of hemp (and cannabis) was a corporate / political corruption. The ongoing interference with the growth and use of hemp, and most importantly therapeutic cannabis is still a corporate / political corruption. And the extremely high purchase price and doctor’s reticence to prescribe is entirely due to corporate / political corruption.

    Yet another case of corporate greed, and craven ignorance and corruption of politicians opting for societal collateral damage over the science and the wellbeing of citizens.

  11. Astrid O’Neill

    Thanks for your note James Moylan, I appreciate it.

  12. LambsFry Simplex.

    Good set of comments. Enjoyed comments like Clakka’s … a little stroll down what is now memory lane.

    I’ll be the odd person out, which would be difficult here and say I have developed a few reservations about it but go along with much of the comments, including that much that made things interesting back then got been ruined, including many of the original joys of the complete experience (have YOU ever been experienced?). Things have changed much, but most know it is always hard to walk away from good bud, which could be an intro to other more problematic issues, but I DO believe it is far less dangerous than some of the illegal and legal stuff peddled as competition.

    Michael ,sorry about you back someone else mentioned back probs ,too and having had a heavy fall the other week I can well testify to the misery of back pain.. .

    Just an an afterthought about memory..
    Now, what was I going to say,

    Wish I hadn’t soaked up all that grog when younger.

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