And so, the debate continues; as stated in our previous articles, an overwhelming number of New Zealanders are in favour of law reform when it comes to the Class C drug marijuana.
It appears marijuana can do no wrong and everything is pointing in its favour – even Sir Richard Branson is suggesting we use marijuana to our advantage.
Economically speaking it seems to stack up.
But socially – that’s another story.
The age-old argument is that marijuana is the lesser of two evils when compared to alcohol, unfortunately that is a hard one to prove, as alcohol is far more prevalent in our society.
In a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, it stated that the proportion of New Zealanders aged 15 years or more who drank alcohol in the past year, was 80 percent (in 2011/12). Of that 80 percent “one in eight past-year drinkers consumed a large amount of alcohol (more than six standard drinks for males or four for females on a drinking occasion) at least once a week”.
Compare that directly to marijuana use; in a 2007/8 New Zealand Drug Use and Alcohol Survey (NZADUS) it states that 46.4 percent of the New Zealand population had tried marijuana in their lifetime and one in seven of those aged 16-64 years had used it in the past 12 months.
University of California’s Magdelena Cerdá led a study team who conducted a thorough investigation based on participants from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development study, often referred to as the Dunedin Longitudiual Study.
It states that when comparing alcohol and marijuana, in terms of the severity of social effects associated with heavy use, alcohol use had a bigger part to play in traffic offences and violent crime than marijuana.
The New Zealand Police (New Zealand Police 2010) estimate that “approximately one-third of all police apprehensions involve alcohol”. They go on to say that “half of serious violent crimes are related to alcohol”.
Odyssey House Community Services team leader, Kereama Carmody, has been with Odyssey House for seven years. He says around 90 percent of what he deals with is alcohol related and he hasn’t seen a lot of violence associated with heavy marijuana users.
Of the six people currently in the youth residential addiction unit, there is one person in there solely for cannabis addiction.
“You don’t see them get aggressive when they are having cannabis withdrawls. It takes away the motivation, so you end up having those issues around schooling and attendance.”
And that relates directly to what Magdelana and her team noted in their study. Magdelena told UC Davis Health Newsroom that their research wasn’t intended to support legalisation of marijuana nor was it against it.
“But it does show that cannabis was not safe for the long-term users tracked in our study.”
When looking at only the economic and social consequences of frequent marijuana use, they found that it was just as detrimental as heavy alcohol consumption.
It states, “the more years of cannabis dependence, the worse the economic and social problems”.
Dunedin study members who were dependent on cannabis were also more likely, during the course of their lives, to be dependent on alcohol than were study members who were not dependent on cannabis.
The social issues noted by heavy cannabis users remained consistent though when factors including abuse of alcohol were removed.
The study linked persistent cannabis dependence (and regular cannabis use) with antisocial behaviour in the workplace. Study members reported behaviours such as lying to get a job, quitting without notice, being purposely counterproductive, stealing money and falsifying hours.
In the study it states that “Cannabis dependence was more strongly linked to financial difficulties than was alcohol dependence”. Study participants were measured in net worth, troubles with debt and cash flow, difficulty to pay basic expenses, food insecurity, welfare benefit receipt, and credit ratings.
They admit in the study that the burden placed on society due to alcohol consumption is greater than that of marijuana use, given that alcohol is legal and readily available, “the burden posed by cannabis use may increase, however, if cannabis use increases after legalisation of cannabis use”.
“Our data indicate that persistent cannabis users constitute a burden on families, communities, and national social-welfare systems. Moreover, heavy cannabis use and dependence was not associated with fewer harmful economic and social problems than was alcohol dependence. Our study underscores the need for prevention and early treatment of individuals dependent on cannabis,” the team stated at the time.
So what is the lesser of two evils?
It’s safe to assume that time will tell, but if the Government is in favour of marijuana law reform, we may just have to up our services to assist those who find themselves struggling with dependency.
By Natalia Rietveld