Most GPs do not support legalising the recreational use of cannabis, Healthed’s latest survey has found.
More than 70% of over 1000 GP respondents said they don’t agree with legalising the drug for recreational personal use — in line with the stance taken by the Australian Medical Association in its submission opposing the Greens’ Legalising Cannabis Bill earlier this month.
The AMA argued that making cannabis legal would send the wrong message.
“If cannabis was legalised for recreational purposes, it would indicate to the public that cannabis use is not harmful,” the AMA submission said. Moreover, they concluded that “it may increase health and social-related harms.”
Other peak health bodies, including the RACGP and Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) did not overtly oppose the bill.
In her submission on behalf of the College, RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins said many implications of the bill were outside their scope of expertise, but she emphasised the need to consider potential public health impacts, including increased risk of psychiatric symptoms.
“There is strong evidence that recreational cannabis is harmful, particularly to susceptible groups such as people with mental health disorders, young people and the unborn child,” Dr Higgins wrote.
Specifically, the RACGP said if the bill becomes law, a comprehensive public awareness campaign would be “essential,” and impact on health services and driving safety risk would need careful consideration.
Several surveyed GPs raised similar issues, citing concerns such as:
- cannabis induced psychiatric issues including schizophrenia and psychosis
- harmful effects on developing brains of young people
- ‘drug driving’ and traffic risks
- difficulty in policing cannabis related road safety.
The Public Health Association of Australia took a similar tack to the RACGP, saying it “has not adopted any policy stance on personal recreational use of cannabis” and has no fixed position on the bill. They acknowledged the political support for possible legislation, but warned that any cannabis reform “should be legislated and regulated with great care.”
In particular, the PHAA said it would be crucial to prevent cannabis industry interference in government policy decision making, and to ensure rigorous collection of epidemiological data and review the impact of legislation.
Other groups raising concerns to the senate inquiry include the Police Federation of Australia and the Department of Home Affairs.
But the bill also has supporters, including the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC).
The NDARC said changes in consumption in places that have decriminalised cannabis “appears quite modest” – and that while increased prevalence could result in an increase in cannabis-related mental health problems, “health related harms are not the only relevant consideration.”
“The present policy of prosecuting cannabis users itself causes a great deal of harm. Cannabis users who are prosecuted end up with a criminal conviction. There is no evidence that prosecuting drug users has any effect on their willingness to continue using illegal drugs. There is plenty of evidence, on the other hand, that a criminal conviction can seriously hamper a person’s future earnings and employment prospects,” the NDARC wrote in its submission.
But many GPs, and the AMA, suggest legislation is a step too far.
“Decriminalising would be acceptable, but I would strongly discourage recreational use of what is essentially a harmful substance,” one GP in Healthed’s survey summed up.
Submissions for the senate inquiry have now closed, and a hearing is scheduled for February.
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