Senate Committee has problems with evidence on marijuana

Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Senate Committee has problems with evidence on marijuana

Having made a submission in September last year to the Senate Economics References Committee into the Inquiry into Personal Choice and Community Impacts, the NRHA was invited to the at a public hearing of the Committee on Friday 11 March.

The acoustics of the Erskineville Town Hall would be challenging enough for a Trappist Monk. But for Senators Leyonhjelm and Dastyari, who were trying to hear evidence about the relative harm of the recreational use of marijuana from four experts, each of whom was on a separate but equally poor phone line, the task was virtually unmanageable.

The Senators themselves, and other interested parties, will await the Hansard record with interest. The valiant Parliamentary sound operator on-site was confident that the record for Hansard will be relatively complete.

Following that, the Senators enjoyed their exchanges with the Department of Health and the NRHA, largely because they were able to hear it. (For the NRHA there was some significance in the fact - undiagnosed by the Senators and others - that in the week during which the Alliance is due to sign a new triennial funding agreement with the Department, the two entities were presenting at the table together, cheek by jowl.)

It seemed for some time that the Senators' interest in the optimal administrative arrangements that might apply should the recreational use of marijuana be decriminalised - not to mention Australia's (Tasmania's) major contribution to the world's supply of poppy and the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs - would leave the Alliance and its submission in limbo.

However Senator Leyonhjelm and his partner in crime took a kindly interest in our views which, in sum, include these.

People in rural and remote areas might have equal freedom to make personal choices, but given their social and economic characteristics and those of the areas in which they live, there is a lower probability of those choices being fully informed and fully realised. Information is scarcer; access to what might be chosen is poorer; and if costs are involved, rural people's capacity to pay is lower.

Also, the capacity of 'government' to provide a safety net (or indeed to be a nanny) looks quite different in more remote areas.

At the end of the day, if citizens expect governments to care when things go wrong, they must accept them into their lives on other occasions too.

The Senators expressed some interest and a little scepticism. But they were at least pleased to have heard us clearly.