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Smoke signals : cannibas moral panics in the United States, Australia & Britain


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Cody, DL 2006 , 'Smoke signals : cannibas moral panics in the United States, Australia & Britain', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, Australia
and Britain. It is also the drug surrounded by the most controversy. While the
cannabis plant was once an innocuous plant present in all three countries, used
as a reliable commodity and valuable medicine, its use as a psycho-active
substance has seen the debate over the drug polarised between absolute fear
and loathe, and its total acceptance as a harmless, recreational activity. This
thesis investigates the condemnation and moral panics surrounding cannabis,
and proposes that the discourse surrounding the drug has experienced four main
phases: 'racialisation'; 'criminalisation'; `popularisation'; and, `medicalisation'.
The first of these moral panics led to the racialisation of cannabis. The common
recreational use of the drug by members of certain 'races', who were seen as
inferior to the dominant, white, Anglo culture, was used as a target against them.
Their use of cannabis, and the resulting legislation that was introduced as a
reaction to their use, was employed as a form of control over these groups who
were disliked for their differences. Racial minorities were again targeted in the
criminalisation of cannabis, as were jazz musicians and sections of the white
criminal class, and the drug was portrayed as having the ability to lead users to
serious, violent crimes and perverse sexual acts. Legislation continued to be
passed against the drug in the United States, Australia and Britain, even though
only a small proportion of their populations indulged in the use of the drug. The
popularisation moral panic occurred in the decade of the 1960s due to the rapid
growth in the use of cannabis among large sections of the youth population.
Instigated due to the fact that its use had become a popular recreational activity
amongst white, middle-class youth, the moral panic suggested that the use of
cannabis led to `antimotivational syndrome'. As a result of the popularisation of
cannabis, users of the drug became differentiated subjects. The fourth moral
panic surrounding cannabis was associated with the medicalisation of the drug.
Harm minimisation was a key issue in this cannabis discourse, and legislation
was changed to distinguish between sale and possession of the drug. More
recently, the debate over whether cannabis is a cause of mental illness fits within
the medicalisation discourse of the drug.
It is concluded that, while there are both similarities and differences within the
four cannabis discourses in the United States, Australia, and Britain, the moral
panics that occurred have led to a distortion of the reality of the drug in each of
the countries. While cannabis does not turn its users into serial killers, as once
suggested, or irreversibly destroy their brains, it is a powerful intoxicant and
ought to be a matter of public concern, if not moral panic. The issue is however, '
how the drug is used, and abused, not whether it ought to be used, and the
media should be used to promote safe use of cannabis rather than creating panic
over the drug.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Cody, DL
Keywords: Cannabis, Moral panics
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2006 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Available for library use only and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (MCrimCorr)--University of Tasmania, 2006. Includes bibliographical references. Introduction -- The Racialisation of Cannabis -- The Criminalisation of Cannabis -- The Popularisation of Cannabis -- The Medicalisation of Cannabis -- Conclusion

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