One determined woman swam upstream in cannabis debate
February 11, 2022
Elaine Walters was a Toorak socialite who filled her days, she says, lunching with ladies and attending committees to organise glittering formal balls. “It was an unreal, privileged life.”
Then one day, nearly 40 years ago, she heard a series of broken-hearted parents ring 3AW telling the stories of how their families had been ravaged by drugs.
There was a common message: they felt helpless, thought no one was listening and were treated as statistics rather than desperate people looking for answers.
On the spur of the moment, she rang in to suggest they join together in a self-help group — offering her Montrose Close home for the first meeting.
It was supposed to be a one-off. Get them together, provide hot coffee, cold snacks and warm words of encouragement. The plan was to help them organise, then ship them off. But one mother there, Bridie, who had lost a son to heroin and had two sons trapped by insatiable cannabis consumption, had other ideas.
“She looked at me with her big, brown eyes and said, ‘Elaine, you aren’t going to leave us?’. Which is exactly what I planned to do.”
Walters met at least six parents who said their children’s lives had been ruined by marijuana. We were in the middle of a heroin epidemic and no one cared about cannabis, considered a soft drug.
Walters used her social organising skills to co-ordinate the group, planning vigils, building the group’s profile until she was finally invited to address a group of so-called experts in the Health Department.
She spoke of cases where parents said their kids were addicted to marijuana, permanently changing their personalities and acting as a gateway drug to narcotics.
“The whole audience sniggered. They were laughing at me. They were so rude. I was absolutely mortified. I will never forget it.”
She left thinking: “Well, they are the experts, and they must know.”
It was Bridie who told her: “That’s what we face all the time.” These victims were seen as bit players in a much larger production.
Walters may have seen herself as privileged, but she was no pushover. A former student of Sacre Coeur, where she was expected to rise at 5.30am to meditate at 6am, she was not someone to be pushed around.
Her lack of knowledge was her greatest asset. She didn’t need to fashion the facts to support a pre-existing position. Fresh eyes often see a problem differently.
A former teacher herself, she started worldwide research, contacting an American expert who had lost a child to drugs.
The expert invited Walters to a US conference, saying: “You will learn more here in 10 days that you will in Australia in 10 years.”
It was an eye-opener where experts freely accepted the dangers of marijuana and saw it as a gateway for more deadly products.
Back in Melbourne, she began a campaign that often contradicted an influential group of drug experts who had been pushing for decriminalisation of cannabis.
In some ways, it was a closed shop. Many of the experts were of an age where they had used marijuana in their teens, but it was essentially a different drug.
The drug of the 1970s and ’80s was a crop usually grown outdoors with a relatively low percentage of the mind-altering THC. The modern product is genetically altered hydroponic “Supergrass”, much of which is produced in suburban “grow houses”.
The image of cannabis as a soft hippy drug persists, when it is actually a major spoke in the organised crime wheel. The profits are massive and if offenders are caught, the penalties are relatively minor.
A grow house can produce 100 plants every 12 weeks. At $3000 a mature plant, this equates to more than $1 million a year. Police say there are 1500 grow houses operating in Victoria producing $1.5 billion worth of cannabis.
Australia has one of the highest per-person consumption rates of cannabis (as well as ice and cocaine) in the world and consumers are prepared to pay premium prices– which is why we are seen as a lucrative market by international crime syndicates.
These syndicates (several controlled by Canadian criminals of Vietnamese descent) use local experts to scout and lease ideal rental properties.
Electricians bypass the supply system, experts set up the hydroponics and the plants are established from grafts to ensure consistent quality. Crop sitters (often illegal immigrants paid a pittance) check the timers and nutrient supply, and harvesters collect the mature plants, dry the product, then vacuum seal and wrap for the market.
As the electricians are not qualified, this process has resulted in hundreds of house fires (the latest a few days ago) and several deaths in Melbourne.
The penalties don’t match the profits. A few years ago, one professional cannabis dealer who controlled several crop houses received a community-based order.
Walters wanted to do more than rattle a few cages and hold the hands of broken parents; she wanted to take on the established thinking, armed with the most comprehensive bank of facts she could find. In 1988, she won a Churchill Fellowship to study marijuana, finding a body of evidence that heavy, long-term use could create permanent personality changes, mental illnesses, memory loss and malaise.
When she wrote of cannabis psychosis, a condition that can strike young users, many tried to write her off as well-intentioned “do-gooder”.
“The self-appointed ‘elite’ do their best to convince the Australian public that marijuana is a ‘soft’ drug. But in fact, it is an exceedingly complex substance and can cause irreparable harm to the brain of developmentally immature adolescents and young adults,” she wrote.
“They also want to convince well-meaning, law-abiding Australians that prohibition is an infringement of their rights. But I would contend that parents’ rights are the ones we should be protecting. Parents devote their lives to their children and are the mediating structures in their social development.
“More than anyone, they are entitled to be given an honest account of the risks their children take if they use marijuana and other gateway drugs.
“People such as myself are often vilified as ‘moralists’ who only wish to maintain prohibition because we believe that using mind-altering drugs is decadent/sinful.
“If someone chooses to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others, I cannot in all conscience leave the matter to chance. I believe I have an obligation to bring to your attention some facts about marijuana and other street drugs that have been deliberately misrepresented and withheld from the Australian public.”
Regardless of whether you agree with Walters, her views are based on dealing with victims, massive academic research and worldwide study. Her work was recognised with an Order of Australia in 2000.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is a fan, writing: “Elaine Walters, OAM, is a distinguished Australian and renowned voice on cannabis policy. For almost 40 years, she has contributed to national and international debates on the consequences of legalising cannabis.
“She has shone a light on the impact of the drug not just on individuals, but also on families and the broader community ... When too many Australians are struggling with their mental health, now is not the time for laws regarding recreational use to be loosened.”
Walters says the debate has been hijacked by those who think the use of illicit drugs is normal, addiction an unfortunate byproduct and decriminalisation inevitable.
“In the 1960s, a handful of academics at America’s leading universities were researching the effects of marijuana, psychedelics and other mind-altering drugs as a means of assisting people suffering from various mental illnesses.
“If they had maintained correct protocols and ethical standards during their research, they may have created some effective new therapies. Instead, they decided that these substances were great fun and quite harmless. Not only did these academics experiment with them for their own amusement, but they also influenced young university students to use them for non-medical or so-called ‘recreational’ purposes.
“It eventually merged into the general population and ultimately became the genesis of a worldwide youth-oriented ‘drug culture’.”
Now aged 83 and having long left Toorak for a clifftop house at Mount Martha, she remains bright, bubbly, passionate and committed. She has recently decided to stop taking strong medication for a chronic lung condition, determined to remain in control of her own destiny.
She is about to publish a series of essays (she has already written four books) alleging that many international drug experts have manipulated their research to legitimise the push to legalise street drugs. She says she isn’t concerned that her strong views on joints may put noses out of joint. “I won’t be here by then,” she says, without a hint of self-pity.
Her decision to stop heavy medication is to make sure she enjoys her remaining days.
She lives with a caretaker, a carer, a new pup and ageing rescue dog, Gracie Fields.
With two children, two grandchildren, a great-grandchild and a library full of research, she says: “I feel very blessed here.”
T.J. Martin AO FAA FRS
Emeritus Professor of Medicine
University of Melbourne
Be Alert and Alarmed by Elaine Walters draws on decade of the author’s life dealing with and studying the consequences for individuals and families of addiction of illicit drugs.
The press every day leaves us with little doubt that drug use if a proximal cause of destructive behaviour that is often tragic and that has increased in Western societies to an extraordinary extent in the last two decades. It is a major cause of crime, it destroys lives and families.
As a problem to be addressed and answered, it generates opinions and suggested approaches that can be so divergent and strongly held that they often seem to be irreconcilable. This is a very evident in the account given by the author of her experience. The author is well equipped to give an account of the arguments that accompany such diversity, which she does in a transparent manner. While making the reasons for her own view clear, she describes with care the arguments of others while offering critical analysis.
With such a major social problem and with so many strongly held views, the battle for supremacy of ideas inevitable becomes fraught, and as the book illustrates how difficult debate can be under such circumstances. The author’s position is made clear, that legislation should ban the use of drugs for “recreational” purposes. This ban would not be applied to the possible use for medical purposes of marijuana, under direct and strict medical supervision. The main arguments against the idea of prohibition arise from the civil liberties point of view – that prohibition denies individuals their free choice.
The authors method in writing the book has been to present it as answers to questions that cover the subject very broadly, allowing all the arguments to be presented. She constantly comes back to concerns for young people and their futures, and how these can be imperilled by the ready availability in society of mind-changing drugs, including those regarded as “soft” by some.
Her view have been developed and presented courageously in the face of critical analysis of many people of influence and the often irrational prejudice of others, all of which is canvased in the book. Sufficient technical information is provided, but the writing is very accessible to the layperson, and as such, this is a book that would make valuable reading for those responsible for the care of children in the family or in the school, as well as for policy –makers. It could help in any reflection on social priorities – which is more important, the right to choose the use of mind-changing drugs or the responsibility to protect those vulnerable to them?
Letters to the Editor
"A scientist once said that research is the scalpel of truth. Having read "Be Alert and Be Alarmed" by the well known author and researcher Elaine
Walters OAM I must agree. She quotes from "Manual for drug policy activists"(1994 - p24) by Michael Moore former A.C.T. Minister for Health " I
blatantly colour the language to assist in building the picture of the failure of prohibition". Ms Walters explains that this colouring of language
about street drugs is consistently used as a deceptive and pacifying technique. For example, 'soft drug', recreational use', 'safe injecting
room'. If anyone believes that ice, heroin, cocaine and cannabis etc which are linked to 70% of crime, and either cause or are associated with at least
six shocking mental illnesses can be used 'safely' , it may well be that Shakespeare was right and we have arrived at "Tis the time's plague, when
madmen lead the blind" (King Lear).
Marijuana is well and truly ensconsed in Australia's culture. From seperate reports prepared by the United Nations and World Health Organisation, Australia emerged with the greatest rate of cannabis use in the world, particularly among the young.
Reviewed by - Medical Observer GP Issues 1 May 1998 Rachel Sharp
Ironically, we also have the world's strongest street cannabis - a dangerous combination.
Now, amid a legalisation debate that has flared for decades, a new group of counter-reformists is beginning to emerge: those who work on the ground, with the kids. They are adamant in their anti dope message.
Elaine Walters is a Victorian drug counsellor, well known for her research on marijuana and for her book The Cruel Hoax - Street Drugs in Australia. She is astounded by the number of young cannabis users visiting her for counselling some as young as 13, who have used for at least 12 months.
"The average age I get is early 20s and, almost without exception they started using at 14,15 and 16. That tends to be the period of time it takes for people to develop certain behavioural, personality and indeed psychological problems," she says.
The director of the National Drug and ALcohol Research Centre (NDARC), Dr Wayne Hall, agrees we should be just as concerned about adolescent cannabis use as are about alcohol and tobacco.
A survey conducted by Dr Hall and colleague Dr N Donnelly, published in the national drug strategy monograph series, showed the proportion of 20 to 29-year-olds who had ever used dope has almost tripled - from 22% in 1973 to 65% in 1993.
"When a drug is widely used in the community, as cannabis undoubtedly is in Australia at the moment, you do begin to notice the casualties of use, particularly amongst adolescents who get involved at an early age," says Dr Hall.
But not all agree that such concern is justified.
Says Dr Alex Wodak, director of the Drug and Alcohol Service at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney: "Levels go up and levels go down but in health we don't pay as much attention to ephemeral trends of minimal significance. We are increasingly being directed to turn our gaze towards outcomes.
"And the outcome is that in the last 12 months in Australia, there were no cannabis-related deaths. In fact there has never been a cannabis-related death."
Dr Wodak, a staunch pro-legalist, also doubts the validity of the UN and WHO reports and believes an unsatisfactory number of countries submitted data for the former. "We cannot take Australia's position in the [UN report] seriously. It was a complete beat-up.
"There are a lot of people in this business who do not base their views on real evidence. They base their views on strong feelings."
Rumours, stronly denied by WHO, have suggested a vital section of their report - "Cannabis: a health perspective and research agenda' - was dropped as a result of political and industrial pressure. Dr wodak is convinced that section contained evidence showing mariuana has fewer adverse effects than alcohol and tobacco.
"As the chapted that was censored from the WHO reports most likely pointed out, there would be no question that if the same numbers of people are consuming the three drugs, the most harm would accrue from tobacco, the next from alcohol, and the least from cannabis," he says.
But a representative of the UN information unit in Sydney denied the 'beat up' allegation, emphasising that the contained statistics from 190 countries.
Politics and legalities aside, there is little doubt among experts of the physical and pyschological effects of cannabis on very young users.
"One view often expressed is that the only hazard associated with adolescent cannabis use is getting caught and attracting a criminal record. But there is certainly a lot more to it than that," says Dr Hall.
In Elaine Walters' opinion, failure to mature mentally is one of the greatest problems among these kids. "Often when they're in their early 20s I find I'm literally dealing with people with the mentality of about a 13 or 14-year-old.
"They have developed no life skills because they haven't been challenged at all - whenever they were stressed they just got stoned. Therefore they just don't have the opportunity to go through that normal development - intellectually, emotionally and spiritually," she explained.
Another person with a hands-on experience is George Thompson, manage of the alcohol and chemical dependancy unit at Warburton Hospital, Victoria, reputedly one of the best detox units in the country. His unit, like Walters', has witnessed a remarkable increase in the number of young poly-drug users, with cannabis as the main culprit.
"If there is any time that no one should take mood-changing drugs to interfere with body chemistry, it's when you're going through puberty," he says.
"Remember when you were back in adolescence? There were hormones flying all over the place, massive mood changes, not knowing whether you were Arthur or Martha half the time. It was ... a difficult time. Now imagine taking mood-changing drugs then."
Combine that with having the strongest street cannabis in the world, and adolescents are in a precarious position, he says.
The UN report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 1997 clearly states that "the average THC content of seized cannabis samples in Australia is 5-6%, which is higher than the average reported in any other country in the world".
That, says Mr Thompson, is about 10 times stronger than marijuana that was around in the late 1960s when he was a teenager.
Though the mental implications appear to be the pressing issue with adolescents, physical problems do exist, with dependence syndrome in particular attracting a lot of recent press.
In New Scientist (21 Feburary 1998) Dr Hall is quoted as having said: "While there may be debate about whether there is a cannabis withdrawal syndrome, there is no doubt that some people who want to stop or cut down their cannabis use find it difficult or impossible to do so and they continue to use cannabis despite the adverse effect it has on their lives.
Patients withdrawing from regular cannabis use often experience insomnia, depression, fluctuating appetite, night sweats, and even anger and aggression, according to NDARC research.
With so much debate over the true impact of this drug on adolescents, Australia is no closer to unity in the legislation debate. But one thing is certain, says Dr Hall – adolescent cannabis use will service as a catalyst for changes to the drug’s legal status in the next few decades.
“For a long time most of the people supporting reform have argued, mistakenly, that it should be legalised because it is harmless. Ultimately this argument is self-defeating because…the evidence is becoming clearer that there are associated harms,” he says.
Dr Wodak has his own opinions. “Are you saying for that reason it is better to have the trade run by criminals? We have a $5 billion industry where criminals have a monopoly – and there is no tax paid from that $5 billion.” And, besides the vast amounts of money we spend on law enforcement, Dr Wodak believes the current laws associated with cannabis are of very little benefit and, worse, seriously disadvantage young people who are labelled criminals.
But legalise marijuana and, again, it’s the kids who will suffer, warns George Thompson. “Have a look at the dirty tricks that cigarette companies are getting up to, to get young people in particular addicted to nicotine. And then you try telling me whether we should legalise marijuana or not. Instead of having marijuana dealers, we’ll have slick marijuana salesmen and marketing campaigns.”
As State Parliament prepares to debate a controversial drug law reform package anti-drugs
campaigner. Elaine Walters has stepped up her crusade to strengthen laws controlling illicit
Reviewed by - Senior Journalist - Janet Blair
Elaine Walters saw an irony in the abuse she attracted at a public forum to debate drug issues last month.
The forum, convened by radio station 3AW and the Herald-sun was broadcast live-to-air during Neil Mitchell's
Mrs Walters was ridiculed by an angry young drug user who launched an attack on the credibility of her recently
published book The Cruel Hoax - Street Drugs in Australia.
While concerned about the public attack on her reputation. Mrs Walters said the radio audience missed what
happened after the public forum.
She said the same young man confronted her and accused her of being a member of the CIA.
Mrs Walters said her attacker appeared to be exhibiting clinical paranoia, a classic symptom of long-term marijuana abuse.
It would be easy to dismiss Elaine Walters, a former teacher and affluent Toorak resident, as a conservative-minded, upper class "do-gooder".
Perhaps conscious of this perception, Mrs Walters has adopted a meticulous approach to her research of drug use and control around the world. The result is her latest book The Cruel Hoax, an expanded version of her previous books, Marijuana - An Australian Crisis and The Cannabis Connection.
Mrs Walters said she first became interested in drug issues while listening to a talk-back radio program 15 years ago. The parents of drug-addicted children were calling in.
"It was just one of those things," she said. "I felt really moved. I thought that's a terrible thing. It's a pity they can't get together. So I thought I'll phone up the station and ask these people to contact me and invite them here and give them a cup of tea and let them share their experiences with each other.
"They turned out to be the loveliest people. People have a strange perception about the parents of drug-addicted children. They feel that they must be dysfunctional families , or there's something wrong with the parents to have let the children get into trouble like that.
"But all of the parents I have met have been exceptionally lovely people and broken-hearted about their children's problems."
Mrs Walters said of the six or so who turned up to her support group, two were mothers of marijuana-addicted sons. On comparing notes, the mothers found that both boys had experienced the same problems.
"The parents believed, as I believed, and some people still believe, it was a soft drug and not to worry too much," Mrs Walters said.
"But as the years went by they saw their boys' deterioration, physically and mentally. They started to have mood swings and memory loss; they lost interest in hygiene.
"Both had left school and got good jobs, and then they lost their jobs and their girlfriends and their whole social life disintegrated. Everything collapsed around them."
Mrs Walters said she was at first sceptical about the women's claim that marijuana was the major cause of their sons' problems. But as the support group (Relatives Against the Intake of Narcotics, or RAIN) grew, and she met more parents of marijuana-addicted children she became convinced that the drug was more dangerous than commonly believed.
After a few years of involvement with the group, she decided to investigate the issue further by talking to "the experts" - doctors, health administrators, social workers and drug counsellors.
"They all said to me, 'Look there's been no research into marijuana, it's basically a soft drug, there's nothing to worry about. The parents are either dysfunctional or over-reacting; just don't worry about it,'" Mrs Walters said.
"They were very condescending, very off-putting. It's an attitude I picked up then that I didn't like, and they've still got that attitude now."
Not content to accept the view of the so-called experts, in 1988 Mrs Walters won a Churchill scholarship to research the issue overseas.
She investigated drug use and control in several countries, including Egypt, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Hong Kong and Sweden.
It is her study of overseas experiences that has led Mrs Walters to the conclusion that the "harm minimisation" and "normalisation" (that is legalisation) appreoach to drug problems advocated by the Premier's Drug Advisory COuncil and some drug agencies and drug counsellors in AUstralia, will only lead to more young people succumbing to addiction.
"This is where I think the Pennington committee have really been misled and been ill-advised.
"They have been relying on people who have been working in the field of drugs for years to give them advice about it and the people who are giving advice are themselves still in the same mind-set that they were 15 years ago.
"They still don't undertand we have a great problem on our hands."
She said the report recommendations were based on the false assumption that the legal costs to society of prosecuting people for the use of marijuana were greater than the health costs of permitting them to use the drug.
Mrs Walters said there was plenty of evidence demonstrating the insidious and devastating effects of marijuana on long-term users; it was demotivating, caused paranoia and mood swings, triggered serious mental illness in some people and promoted passive, inward-turning personalities.
It was doubly difficult to understand the committee's legalisation proposal when most countries around the world were reaffirming the need for legal sanctions against drug use, she said.
While acknowledging that it was impossible to eliminate drugs completely from society, Mrs Walters said a drug-free society should nevertheless be our goal. She said international experience had shown that the prohibition of drug use combined with comprehensive good quality education of children and the rehabilitation of addicts could go a long way towards achieving this aim.
She said Sweden, which has adopted this approach, had been far more successful in reducing drug abuse among its citizens than the Netherlands, with its liberal approach to marijuana use.
Only one in 20 Swedes had ever tried the drug compared with one in two Australians she said.
Mrs Walters has prepared a report outlining an alternative approach to drug control, based on the Swedish model, and submitted it to the Drug Advisory Council.
Call for an end to society’s ‘soft attitude’ towards marijuana use
Marijuana had serious side effects, and society’s soft attitude to marijuana smoking needed to be turned around, a leader in drug education said yesterday.
Elaine Walters, a worker in the marijuana culture for 14 years, said that Sweden was the model for Australia to follow, not the free drug culture of the Netherlands.
Sweden has one person in 20 people in the 18-14 age group who have ever used marijuana but Australia has one in three, she said.
Ms Walters said that Sweden was a very liberal society, which allowed free use of drugs in the 1960s, and there followed a huge upsurge in the use of amphetamines, cannabis and heroin.
“After two years only, they tightened the drug laws and made its use socially unacceptable,” she said.
“The law of the state is to reinforce drug education, and we must keep laws in place to enable rehabilitation.”
A US national high school drug survey showed that if students didn’t use marijuana, they were unlikely to use other drugs.
More than 50 per cent of students who used marijuana used other drugs, she said.
Ms Walters said that the epidemic of marijuana use started at Harvard University and spread through other universities.
Marijuana gives brain dysfunction from delusion to schizophrenia and has more cancer causing chemicals than the strongest tobacco cigarette, she added.
Geelong Advertiser Editorial Opinion
A victimless crime perpetuated by governments pandering to minority wishes and refusing to disseminate
all the evidence in favour of its use – is that an accurate picture of marijuana use in our society? According
to the pro-cannabis lobby, the answer is yes. Curiously, however, a similarly structured argument is
preferred by those opposed to the legalisation of cannabis. They suggest drug counsellors and health
and social workers are reluctant to advertise growing negative information on cannabis. In addition, they
say governments cannot be relied upon to adequately address the matter of decriminalisation.
It is interesting that the pro-marijuana lobby’s arguments have altered little over the years. Marijuana
causes no major health defects and does not lead to harder drugs – for more that two decades these
claims, and others, have been cited in the drug’s defence. In recent years, however, such arguments are losing ground. Long-term studies have found disturbing links between cannabis and a string of physical and mental health problems. They remain inconclusive. Still, it is odd the concerns they have generated have failed to attract the attention of the marijuana advocates, many of whom city therapeutic properties in justifying the material’s use.
It is also interesting that calls for cannabis to be legalised have been resurrected. Is it possible, as scientific evidence becomes harder to fight, the supporters of cannabis fear they may lose any chance of having the drug legalised? These days cannabis is not seen simply as an alternative to alcohol that may ease anxiety, depression, insomnia and asthma. Such arguments are naive and losing any validity they ever enjoyed. In fact, it is now believed cannabis may contribute to, rather than overcome, such problems.
The range of health problems now linked with marijuana is considerable. Some scientists say it may induce schizophrenia. Studies have linked its use to paranoia, premature senility, hormone interference, bronchial problems, abnormal bone marrow, cell damage, adverse effect on sperm cell production, genetic complications and damage to most organs. It has been associated with losses of motivated and laziness. According to Ms Elaine Walters, who studies overseas drug use under a Churchill Fellowship, there appears a strange resistance among counsellors and social workers to acquaint themselves with these links, or to pass on such information to young people.
Ms Walters, president of the International Fellowship of Parents for Drug Free Youth, says counsellors and social workers treat cannabis as a “soft drug” – one of little danger to users or the community. This is disturbing, given the fact marijuana use become a regular part of life for one in four Australian adults. Many of these people argue it is hypocritical to prosecute marijuana-users when the abuse of alcohol and legal drugs is rife. They claim, too, that police resources would be better deployed chasing harder drugs. They persist that cannabis is not dangerous and that decriminalisation would help remove the element of organised crime in its distribution.
It should be pointed out the doubt hanging over cannabis requires the substance not be legalised – regardless of any precedents set by alcohol or prescribed drugs. Another legal drug is not needed by society, particularly one with such potential for problems. Further, the argument of police resources being wasted cannot hold credibility – if anything, they seem right on target. In addition, it is possible legalising cannabis might increase the ‘romanticism’ of dabbling with other even more dangerous drugs.
Condoning marijuana through legislation may prompt users to flirt with other illegal drugs. At a time when it is becoming apparent cannabis may be of far greater danger than previously thought, it is naive, simplistic and dangerous to shy away from the new problems being revealed. The pro-legalisation lobby should know it will only reveal itself as an insidious advocate of public harm if it refuses to face up to the questions now being asked about cannabis.
Tackling the drug problem
Elise Sullivan - Ballarat Courier 5/5/1999
Australia’s growing drug problem is a community problem which needs to be confronted by the community, Elaine Walters said at a drug forum held in Ballarat last night.
About 150 people attended the forum titled “Bringing Drug Use Out In The Open”.
Australian Family Association Ballarat branch organised last night’s forum at the Anglican Cathedral diocesan centre to allow community members to hear firsthand about the problem and its prevention.
Dr Joe Santamaria joined Mrs Walters as a guest speaker.
Dr Santamaria is the former director of community medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital and former president of the Australian Medical society on alcohol and drug related problems.
He is also the AFA national president and has a vast experience in the care and rehabilitation of people addicted to alcohol and mind altering drugs.
Mrs Walters is the author of a series of books on drugs, their usage and hazards. She is also a member of the National Expert Advisory Committee on School Drug Education.
“The drug issue is a community problem and it is up to the people to solve it and recognise the extent of the problem in our homes, schools and communities,” Mrs Walters said.
“Obviously no society is ever going to be completely drug free, but that is not the point. The term drug free is the ideal – the goal to strive for – the inspiration for young people,” she said.
Mrs Walters said it should be made clear to students that chemical substances for example drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, heroin and tobacco, possess different pharmacological properties and present “enormously differing levels” of danger to people who take them.
“It would be disastrous to educate people into thinking that smoking tobacco will create the same level of harm as smoking a joint or using a bong and that drinking a cup of coffee is equivalent to washing down amphetamines with a glass of beer.”
Dr Santamaria said the concept of heroin maintenance was not the answer as it had been tried in other parts of the world and had not succeeded.
He said everyone needed to be knowledgeable about the problem and be focused on preventing drug use.
MP wants cannabis literature examined – Geelong Advertiser , 26/10/1989
A Geelong politician has urged the Government to examine “outdated” Health Department literature on cannabis.
In Parliament this week, Independent MLC, Mr Rod Mackenzie, said that young people should be warned “they were playing with a dangerous substance if they used marijuana”.
Mr Mackenzie said he would ask the Health Minister, Ms Hogg, to have inadvertent misinformation in the department’s pamphlets examined.
Mr Mackenzie referred to Melbourne anti-drugs activist, Elaine Walters’ book The Cannabis Connection, the result of several years’ research.
Ms Walters quotes research findings of health workers, researchers and the United Nations Commission on Narcotics findings in her book.
Mr Mackenzie said he had directed the book to Ms Hogg’s attention.
He said a United Nations Commission on Narcotics pamphlet warned: “Extensive research has indicated that marijuana impairs short-term memory and slows learning, interferes with normal reproduction, adversely affects heart functions; has serious effects on perception and skilled performance.”
Daughter became a self-destructive stranger: mum – Devonport ‘95
The mother of a 17-year-old marijuana user spoke yesterday about the heartache of seeing her daughter admitted to a psychiatric clinic.
Her daughter had been using marijuana since her 1993 leavers dinner and it was early this year that the family enlisted professional help.
“One Sunday morning she trashed her bedroom, dressed herself up to the nines, including make-up, and took off down the street minus her shoes and it was the middle of winter,“ the mother said.
“My husband went after her and asked her where she was going and she said she was going home.
“We knew then that professional help was needed.”
When being assessed for treatment, the daughter did not know who she was, could not answer a simple question like did she want a cup of coffee, and she did not even know her mother.
“I was worried about the sort of people she’d be with in a psychiatric ward but when I walked into the ward, my daughter was the worst of the lot. Her tongue was hanging out of her mouth. She was just sitting there dribbling.”
She said that before her daughter started taking marijuana she was a fun-loving and thoughtful person but the drug turned her into a selfish, self-centred and self-destructive stranger.
“All she lived for was marijuana. She only cared about her next smoke.
“When she was in hospital she said, ‘Mum I’ve lost the last two years of my life,’ she knew that. Now she just has to start from scratch.
“She’s struggling to come to terms with what she’s done and where she fits in.”
The mother said that she used to blame herself but didn’t anymore. “She grew up in a caring loving family with the knowledge that we were always there for her, and we still are.
She concluded with: “Don’t anybody say to me that marijuana is a safe drug.”
Drug culture expert rejects move towards legalisation
The suggestion that marijuana is a “soft” drug and should be legalised was flatly rejected by a drug culture expert yesterday.
Elaine Walters told the forum that the move for legalisation of marijuana had originated from the drug culture itself.
Having studied the marijuana culture for the past 14 years, Ms Walters said that prohibition was working to curb use of the drug.
Society was facing a modern drug epidemic that would not be cured through the legalisation of hard drugs.
The notion that illegal drugs were here to stay and we should teach children to use these drugs responsibly was a defeatist attitude.
"It aligns itself with the drug culture philosophy,” she said.
“Sweden has controlled its drug problem with abstinence. And if you look at the Netherlands, considered to be Europe’s drug capital, you can see that liberal drug laws don’t work.”
Australia was already pumping $14 billion a year, and maybe even up to $18 billion a year, into the health and social costs created by the use of legal drugs in alcohol and tobacco, she said.
‘Pot’ harmful, says researcher – John Silvester
The so-called experts who advocated legalising marijuana were guilty of spreading misinformation
to the community,a Churchill Fellow said yesterday.
Mrs Elaine Walters said some academics and intellectuals were “more concerned with concepts
Mrs Walters, who has spent the past five years studying drugs, said there was no doubt cannabis
was a harmful drug.
Speaking on the eve of tomorrow’s national anti-drug campaign, Operation Noah, Mrs Walters said
the use of marijuana in adolescents was particularly damaging.
She said clinical observations in teenagers using marijuana showed a “lack of motivation, impaired critical judgement, diminished capacity to endure threat or frustration, unpredictable mood swings from mania to depression and disruption of recent memory”.
“Because adolescents’ brains are still developing they are susceptible to damage from marijuana,” she said.
Mrs Walters became interested in the effects of cannabis after starting a self help group for parents of children on drugs.
She saw many parents who maintained their children were suffering mental disorders from cannabis use.
Experts in Australia denied marijuana could cause these problems but Mrs Walters found documentation from overseas which supported the parents’ views.
“The people here just didn’t seem to know.”
Mrs Walters travelled to France, Egypt, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden over three months last year to complete the Churchill fellowship on drugs.
She has also had two other study trips to the US to research drug abuse.
“There is no doubt that legalising marijuana will lead to an increase in its abuse,” she said.
“There is also no doubt there is a link between cannabis and harder drugs.
“No one goes straight to harder drugs without first having used cannabis.”
Mrs Walters said the marijuana now grown was more potent in intoxicant (THC) than 20 years ago as different strains were now cultivated.
Government figures show about 30 per cent of all Australians aged 14 to 19 have tried marijuana.
The figures show about 3.5 million people have used the drug.
She said people did suffer withdrawal symptoms from marijuana addiction.
Anyone with information on drug dealers, growers and distributors can contact police tomorrow as part of Operation Noah on toll-free 008 011 233 between 9am and 9pm.
Marijuana ‘leads to hard drugs’ – David Towler and Nick Richarson, Herald 29/8/89
Marijuana users should be more severely penalised to stop young people progressing to harder drugs, according to a leading Australian drug authority.
A former Churchill fellow who spent most of last year studying the drug problem in the US and Europe, Mrs Elaine Walters, said cutting the demand for marijuana was necessary to help control the wider “drug epidemic”.
Her comments were endorsed yesterday by Canberra criminologist Dr Grant Wardlaw, who has been studying the rise of drug-related crimes in the US and who believes the key aim of any anti-drug program should be drug demand, not supply.
Mrs Walters said the inherent dangers of marijuana, such as its effects on emotional and intellectual development, were underrated compared with more sensational but less widespread drugs such as “ecstasy” and “crack”. “It creates the mood, or the context for young people to become involved in other drugs. It’s just a natural progression,” Mrs Walters said.
“Young people are smoking and drinking more at an earlier age. By about 14 or 15 for many of them this has become very much part and parcel of their social life.
“Where it is so important is the effect it has on the adolescent: it is very dangerous to free them from stress and responsibility when in fact they should be learning how to cope with life.”
Mrs Walters, who is head of the International Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, said epidemics of amphetamine use in Japan in the ‘50s, and more recently Sweden, had been successfully countered by “restrictive measures” against users rather than suppliers.
Canberra criminologist Dr Wardlaw, who also recently returned from study leave in Washington, said drugs were responsible for a major increase in violent crime.
He said the US had started to use some of its defence forces to collect information on known drug users and keep surveillance on American borders, especially in relation to cocaine use.
“The real lesson of the American exercise is that we should be concentrating on reducing the demand for drugs.”
‘Workers hold back on drug danger’ – Brenda Harkness
Resistance by drug counsellors, health and social workers is stopping the community finding out about the dangers of cannabis, according to an anti-drugs campaigner.
Churchill Fellow and president of the International Fellowship of Parents for Drug Free Youth, Ms Elaine Walters, said this week there was a lack of information about the drug’s effects available to cannabis users and young people in Australia.
Ms Walters who, as a Churchill Fellow studied drugs in society overseas, said cannabis was still naively promoted as a “soft drug” in Australia – but overseas studies had linked it with a range of health problems.
There appeared to be “resistance” among social and health workers and drug counsellors in spreading this information on to the community.
Counsellors and social workers did not have the medical and scientific background to counsel in the dangers of the drug, she said.
Ms Walters, visited Egypt and Europe, to study the affects of drugs, mainly cannabis.
She said she was curious as to why this information was not available in Australia.
While cigarettes and smoking were a big problem, cannabis had reached epidemic proportions and its affects on the human body were more rapid, she said.
Overseas studies of cannabis are beginning to link it with hormonal interference cell damage, changes in the reproductive system and damage to brain cells as well as bronchial problems.
Ms Walters said other overseas studies had linked it with psychological disorders.
She said the cannabis was not legal because it was a dangerous drug and could not be controlled by man.
She explained the active component of cannabis Delta-9 Tetra Hydro Cannabonol THC, accumulated in the body.
Half of the THC remained in the body each time the substance was taken eventually damaging membranes in fatty tissue around organs and in the brain.
Cells damaged in the brain are not replaced.
Ms Walters said cannabis did not allow young people grow to their fullest potential.
During her overseas visit, Ms Walters spent time in Amsterdam where the drug is widely available and used.
She said the drug had been “de facto” legalised in Amsterdam. Authorities turned a blind eye to it.
Cafes and bars sold and allowed patrons to use the drug with impunity from prosecution.
Authorities were reticent about releasing information about the impact of cannabis use in Amsterdam, but there was growing community concern about social and health problems it caused, she said.
“Young people as 11 and 12 are using cannabis there,” she said.
Ms Walters said the effects of long-term use of the cannabis derivative, hashish, in countries such as Egypt were also to the fore.
A Cairo professor had told a international conference on drugs that he believed Cairo was going backward because of the percentage of the community, mainly young males who used hashish.
The drug made people, lazy and demotivated them she said, whereas drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine made people aggressive.
Ms Walters said legalisation of cannabis in Australia would increase the number of people using it.
It would be naive to suggest cannabis use did not lead to experimentation with other drugs.
A 10-year-study of high school students in the U.S. revealed 50 per cent of young people had used the drug. Half again had gone on to experiment with other drugs, she said.
There is no such thing as a soft drug
BE ALERT AND ALARMED ILLEGAL DRUGS: Power, Politics and Propaganda. Book Review
Reviewed by Julia Patrick
According to Elaine Walters, the present ice crisis and epidemic of illegal drugs were “entirely predictable and preventable”, and she is fearless in shining the light on those she considers responsible.
For years, she says, so-called “experts” and drug law reformers have manipulated the media and infiltrated bureaucracies and shaped government policy with misleading information she calls “nothing short of scandalous”.
Bold words, but Walters does not pussyfoot around in her new book, Be Alert and Alarmed, Illegal Drugs: Power, Politics and Propaganda. It is the story of her journey to alert the public about illegal (“designer”) drugs, along with some amusing anecdotes showing that this courageous and compassionate woman has a good sense of humour.
Her involvement in the drug scene was accidental: “Shocked and astounded” on hearing mothers on a radio program describe the horror of their children’s additions, she started a support group in her own home.
It was the beginning of serious research, later a Churchill Fellowship to see how other countries handled the problem, and then an Order of Australia in 2000 for her work.
It has been an ongoing fight against legalizing what she calls the “destructive and pitiless force of drugs” and concentrating on what she considers our number one priority: “preventing young people from using drugs in the first place.”
As a result she has faced public denigration and hostile opposition form the pro-legalisation lobby, but she is dedicated to her cause and does not give an inch.
Walters highlights the seductive power of benign and reassuring words in describing drugs. So marijuana (cannabis), in reality associated with schizophrenia and psychosis, is promoted as a “soft” drug, along with ecstasy and other party drugs that are in fact “gateway” drugs to addiction.
How, she asks, can mind-altering substances like heroin and cocaine be labeled “recreational” as if taking them were as harmless as reading a book?
Stupefying, addictive and psycho-active street drugs are harmful; why are they condoned at all? You cannot quantify “harm”, yet the “harm minimization” tag implies it is OK to have a go. Yet this type of dangerous misinformation passes as government policy on drugs!
Walters dismisses the civil libertarians’ cry that drug taking is a personal right. Who, she asks is defending the “right” of newborn babies to go through agonizing withdraw symptoms as a result of being born to a drug-addicted mother? Or the families destroyed by a teenager on drugs?
“I know from my own experience,” she writes, “the uncontrollable, violent behavior that can occur when a teenager is stoned. People have absolutely no idea what parents have to go through.”
Walters believes that public opinion will be the biggest factor in stemming the rising tide of drug taking. Social disapproval underpinned the success of the anti-smoking campaign; so why, she asks, can’t we do it with drugs?
She is a strong advocate of rehabilitation and agrees that marijuana can sometimes bring pain relief. But she warns that it must be strictly controlled; some experimental medical marijuana centres in the US have been, she says an “absolute disaster” and should alert us to the pitfalls.
The references and bibliography are meticulous and extensive, though a subject index would be helpful. And owing to the Q&A (question and answer) conversational style of the book, some of the information is unnecessarily repetitive.
Written for the general public, but especially for parents, Be Alert and Alarmed is informative, factual and a real eye-opener on what is behind the present drug epidemic.