Posted on 08. Nov, 2011 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — I rise to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Prohibition of Display and Sale of Cannabis Water Pipes) Bill 2011. It would be remiss of me not to
share a cultural aspect in this debate. I grew up in a culture where, if you come from a good family, you do not drink or smoke. When young men start approaching young women for marriage, the first question that the potential parents‑in‑law ask is, ‘Do you smoke?’, and if you do, you are out. This very strong cultural background is such that nobody drinks or smokes where I come from. But the irony is that cannabis grows wild in my country, Cambodia, and nobody smoked it until the war in Vietnam spilled over to Cambodia. We heard that the Americans smoked it in great quantity, so we exported it to Vietnam for them, but then it eventually came back to affect our young people. That is the irony of this whole thing.

Having said that, the anecdotal comment has been made that the best soup in Cambodia, and also in Vietnam, in some of the better, well‑known restaurants has probably had a pinch of cannabis added to make it taste so good. I have started to question why the soup is so good in those popular restaurants in Springvale and probably the Richmond strip. Has there been a pinch of cannabis added? But there is no doubt that in general the effect of cannabis is bad. I thought it was interesting to share that with the house.

It is understood that there are serious issues associated with the consumption of cannabis. Last month, when this house debated the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Drugs of Dependence) Bill 2011, I set out in detail my concern about the mental health impact of cannabis use. For this debate I will just summarise what I said previously.

There is a causal relationship between consuming cannabis and mental illness. Cannabis, probably through one of its chemicals, THC, or delta‑9‑tetrahydrocannabinol, can quite likely trigger a psychotic episode in some people who have a predisposition to that. An article in the British Journal of Psychiatry attempted to quantify this:

On an individual level, cannabis use confers an overall twofold increase in the relative risk for later schizophrenia. At the population level, elimination of cannabis use would reduce the incidence of schizophrenia by approximately 8 per cent, assuming a causal relationship.

Therefore what actions the government takes through legislation and through its programs and services to reduce cannabis usage is critical. Unfortunately this bill is not helpful. It might allow the government to look tough, but will it really reduce the use of cannabis in the community? Unfortunately the answer is that this bill is not much more than window‑dressing.

Where is the scientific evidence of the level of usage of bongs? In her speech the Minister for Mental Health made sweeping generalisations but was light on detailing just what research supported her claims. I suspect casual users are more likely to roll a joint. Maybe more regular, hard‑core users use bongs, but they will be determined to keep using mechanical implements. Some drink bottles, in particular those of a well‑known sports drink which I will not name, can be readily made into bongs. Will the minister next ban drink bottles of a certain shape and composition? When I was a university student people adapted milk bottles for use as bongs. There will always be a level of resourcefulness. Will cigarette papers and tobacco pipes be banned because they can also be used to smoke cannabis?

In her second‑reading speech, the minister stated that the government will not ban hookahs, or shishas, which are used by Middle Eastern communities. This is presumably due to cultural sensitivities, and I can understand that. While she stated that these are used to smoke tobacco products, she was silent on the fact that they can also be used to smoke cannabis — there is no doubt about that. Obviously the minister did not do an internet search. There is an abundance of websites giving advice not only on the consumption of cannabis in general but specifically on how to use it in shishas.

I will quote from one website. While I do not intend to read its address into the record, I will make it available to Hansard to verify the quote. One person, in a posting titled ‘Marijuana shisha’, asked:

I was wondering if anyone had instructions to make marijuana shisha for hookah use … I have heard of people just mixing the two but I was wondering if it is possible to make it with just weed and no tobacco … if you do know of a way to make some could you please include measurements. Thank you!

A reply says, in part:

I’ve used marijuana in a hookah before.

I will not read his advice into the record as I do not think it is in the public interest, although the person responding does say:

I … got stuck in my chair for about 2 hours.

The minister is blind to what is obvious from the most casual of internet searches — that is, that shishas can be used to smoke marijuana. While I am talking about shishas, it is important to note that in not banning shishas the government has clearly given priority to cultural considerations rather than the health issues at stake. That is not a surprising decision by the Liberal Party, which has had so much difficulty in breaking its financial relationship with the big tobacco companies.

I wonder whether the minister is aware of some important World Health Organisation information. I draw the attention of the house to a 2005 advisory note by the World Health Organisation study group on Tobacco Product Regulation. I should say that the term ‘study group’ is the name the WHO now uses for its scientific advisory committees. The WHO scientifically examined the use of tobacco water pipes and dispelled the myth that somehow water pipes may be safer, saying on page 3 of its report:

The water pipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.

The WHO lists 10 very important points about the implications of its report. I will not read through that list. However, if the first principle of government is ‘do no harm’, then, with one caveat, this bill does nothing much at all. That is why the opposition is not opposing this bill. The caveat is that cannabis usage should not be treated as being a matter that is out of sight, out of mind. The government might be acting tough in banning bongs, but the much bigger challenge is providing resources for education and prevention, treatment and policing. For example, there are just not enough inpatient
psychiatric beds for those with an acute psychosis, including a drug‑induced psychosis. Out‑of‑area admissions, premature discharge and the revolving door are just some of the challenges not taken up in this bill.


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