Posted on 14. Sep, 2011 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Drugs of Dependence) Bill 2011. I believe we now have a greater understanding of the health implications of mind‑altering drugs, including cannabis, particularly as a trigger for psychotic episodes than we did, say, 15 years ago.

Early in my career, just a couple of months after my election to this place, I sat in this chamber — of course on the other side of the chamber — on 31 May 1996 as Professor David Penington, the then chairman of the Premier’s Drug Advisory Council, presented to this chamber a report of the Premier’s advisory council. In that report the council recommended the decriminalisation of possession and use of small amounts of cannabis as well as cultivation for personal use of up to five plants. For a while it looked as though Victoria might decriminalise cannabis.

In his presentation to the house Professor Penington argued the case on the basis of trying to break the link with hard drugs and drug traffickers. However, I believe he understated the adverse health implications of cannabis use. There is now a growing body of research that shows that cannabis has some sort of causal relationship with psychosis. It is not as simple as saying cannabis use causes psychosis; more likely, for some individuals with a predisposition or vulnerability to psychosis cannabis can be a trigger to the onset of psychosis.

For the purpose of my contribution I will rely mainly on Sane Australia, which explains psychosis as a severe mental illness that involves the onset of delusions and hallucinations. Someone experiencing psychosis is unable to distinguish between reality and delusion, meaning contact with reality is completely lost. For example, one piece of research by Arseneault, Cannon, Witton and Murray which appeared in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2004 hypothesised that there is a causal link between the use of cannabis and psychotic disorders. The research found, and I quote:

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.

Among the chemicals found in cannabis, THC, or Delta‑9 tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive chemical responsible for the ‘high’ effect of marijuana use. This may well be the trigger for those with a predisposition; while some may experience only once the frightening experience of hallucinations and delusions, for others this may be the onset of ongoing chronic schizophrenia.

Speaking of chronic schizophrenia, the drug Kronic, which this bill is a response to, may well be appropriately named. There is much we do not yet know about the effects of mind‑altering drugs, but to me it is clear that drugs designed to mimic substances such as cannabis, both in their ingredients and effect, should be dealt with in similar terms.

The principal act is the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. Section 4 of the principal act is the definitions section. Clause 4 of this bill amends section 4(1) by amending the definition of a ‘drug of dependence’ to include drugs specified by regulation.

In his second‑reading speech the minister claimed this bill is future proof, presumably because as new drugs which may have been created in the laboratory appear, the provision in clause 4 will kick in and allow the minister to proscribe other substances. In one sense this bill is not future proof because it is subject to the quite sensible provision of a 12‑month sunset. However, putting the sunset
provision aside, I wonder whether this will really be the last time we have this matter before us in this chamber. I suspect there are those who are waiting to create substances we could not have envisaged, which will be administered in ways not imagined. So, while the opposition does not oppose the bill, this is unlikely to be the last time this issue is before the house.


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