A drug war: The highs and lows of medical cannabis

By Raiyan Faruque

The use of cannabis as a medical aid has been cultivated for over 6000 years dating back to 4000 B.C. Originating in Ancient China, cannabis was recommended for treating various health conditions such as malaria, constipation, rheumatic pains and female disorders. Over time, cannabis has expanded its medical purpose in several other countries such as India, the Middle East, South African and South America. Cannabis was originally renowned for its healing properties, which, in recent decades has shifted to be recognised as the intoxicating drug of hippies and stoners who laze around smoking ‘pot’ to the detriment of their cognitive development.

The legalisation of cannabis is not the area of debate you would expect to hear from parents with experimental, developing adolescents, but for some, this very debate is a cry out of desperation. Whereas others, argue the potential legalisation of cannabis legalisation will create a socio-economic malfunction.

The current media landscape, particularly in Australia, USA and the UK, the debate has branched into two conflicting arguments – the legalisation of cannabis can be utilised as a medical tool for sick patients, and on the flipside, the potential legalisation of medical cannabis will impose an immense capital investment, unaffordable for most patients in need.

Both a combination of hard news and views journalism articles, with reference to a variety of credible sources from politicians, researchers and patients, these authors have provided ranging perspectives on the issue of legalising cannabis for medical use – one that is of benefit for society whereas on the other hand, imposes an opportunity for a capitalist venture.

In favour of the legalisation of medical cannabis is Jane Fynes-Clinton’s views journalism article titled, ‘Opinion: It’s time to listen to the science on medical cannabis, not the ideology’ published on The Courier Mail on 22 April 2015. The Courier Mail is a News Corp Australia owned, daily tabloid newspaper published in Brisbane, Australia. The Courier Mail has often been criticised for its controversial publications however, its articles range from a variety of issues such as breaking news and current affairs to latest celebrity gossip. Through analysis and research, The Courier Mail has published a number of articles in relation to passing the legislation to permit the use of cannabis for medical aid.

On the other hand, Dana McCauley’s hard news article titled ‘Legalising medical cannabis sounds great, if you can afford it’ published on News.com.au on 4 March 2016, weighs the economic and financial aspects of the cannabis legalisation and the threats and restrictions it imposes on our socio-economic framework. The News.com.au is an Australian news and entertainment website which is also owned by News Corp Australia. News.com.au specialises in publications associating national and international affairs, as well as other areas including entertainment, sport, lifestyle and travel. News.com.au is recognised as Australia’s number one news site, reaching an audience of over 5.5 million Australians.

Under the Australian law, cannabis is classified as a Schedule nine drug which is of equivalent scale to drugs such as heroin and LSD. According to a research study conducted by Hamish R. Smith from James Cook University, cannabis is highly common across Australia with roughly 40% of Australians aged fourteen and above who have admitted to using cannabis, whereas over 300,000 Australians engage with the drug on a daily basis. Cannabis has developed a negative socio-recreational agenda which contributes to the criminalisation of the substance. Although a number of countries have acknowledged the medical properties of cannabis, decriminalising it for medical practice, the Australian government is still sitting on the fence. Public knowledge and support for the legalisation of medical cannabis has shown a survey result of 69% among Australians. Scientific research has proven that cannabis contains medicinal properties which can assist with several health conditions.

Fynes-Clinton, a journalist of almost 30 years specialises in political journalism and government relationships. Fynes-Clinton voices a strong opinion on the issue of legalising medical cannabis on her various published newspaper articles and Twitter posts.

Fynes-Clinton’s publication on medical cannabis, ‘Opinion: It’s time to listen to the science on medical cannabis, not the ideology’ presents a wide range of journalistic techniques which justifies the debate for legalising medical cannabis.

Journalist Fynes-Clinton has titled her article ‘Opinion: It’s time to listen to the science on medical cannabis, not the ideology’, which explicitly reveals to the reader that is it a views journalism piece. Fynes-Clinton’s principle claim argues that the debate associating the legalisation of medical cannabis first and foremost requires the understanding and clear distinction between the recreational use and medical practice of cannabis:

“We need to stop talking about marijuana [cannabis] that is smoked for fun and cannabis oil that is taken for comfort and survival in the same conversation.”

The principle claim is accompanied by the use of inclusive language ‘we’ which creates a unified community, convincing readers that the conflicting debate of medical cannabis requires the knowledge from society as a whole to eliminate the stigma of cannabis as a recreational substance, and understand its medicinal power.

She cleverly addresses her argument to target her audience from young adults to conservative middle-aged recipients through her use of language and choice of description.

Fynes-Clinton often uses colloquial terms and ‘street’ references such as ‘pot’ and ‘get high’ to engage with a broad audience, particularly young adults.

Furthermore, Fynes-Clinton uses a false analogy ‘stop the oscillating Jekyll/Hyde approach of giggling teen and judgmental parent’ to attract a more mature-aged audience.

“We need to grow up a bit and stop the oscillating Jekyll/Hyde approach of giggling teen and judgmental parent. The health-giving properties need to be discussed scientifically and maturely.”

The author strategically alludes to a historical reference to appeal to the popular opinion and emphasise the ludicrousness of the debate. The ‘Jekyll/Hyde approach’ is understood as a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to another. Hence, the author creates a narrative reflection of a serious debate of legalising medical cannabis, using visual descriptions ‘giggling teen’ and ‘judgmental parent’ to position the audience to evaluate their stance on the issue of medicinal cannabis.

The author explicitly states the primary claim of her argument is to steer away from from the idea that cannabis is only a recreational substance, but rather a drug that can be used for medical assistance to aid patients and for patients to have the right to use cannabis without the risk of being charged under criminal substance abuse.

“For the debate on this issue to be properly advanced, the recreational and medical uses of cannabis need to be separated, at least for now.”

 “Politicians need to stop making references to cannabis in this context as a gateway drug.”

 The author uses a strong voice in her statements and claims, and gives her argument an affirmative tone by questioning the political perception of cannabis.

Fynes-Clinton articulates her piece using highly emotive language to accentuate her frustration and strong opinion towards the use of cannabis, and the drastic measures patients experience to fight for their lives.

“The problem is they do so quietly because those who make and supply it, as well as those who use it, risk arrest. It is ludicrous.”

 The author has used an either-or argument to emphasise the severity and desperation of the medically ill patients, who have no choice but to either put their health at risk without cannabis or risk being prosecuted for obtaining and utilising cannabis illicitly. The author’s use of truncated sentences, further supported by the use of emotive-passive terminology claiming the struggle of the medically ill is ‘ludicrous’ further solidifies the author’s frustration and emotions towards the issue.

The article primarily appeals to ethical and social norms, as the author’s primary stance is focused on the legalisation of cannabis.

“It seems strange that yet again, we are not prepared to learn from the findings of other nations. Australia may be an island, but must we always take this so literally?”

“More than 20 nations have already legalised medical cannabis and gone through the motions of checking the science and laying out the safety zones.”

“By insisting on tilling ground that has already been prepared by others, we are delaying the process of approvals – something we have become champions at in Australia.”

The author uses rhetorical questions and the use of statistics to support her claim with a credible backbone. The use of a rhetorical question contests the reader’s ethical values, further supported by her use of a sarcastic tone incorporating slippery slope informal fallacy to solidify her argument. By frequently using the inclusive pronoun ‘we’, the author alludes to the idea that the fate and ethical stance of medical cannabis is a shared debate, one that everyone can empathise and be affected by equally. The author’s appeal to ethics and social morality is embedded throughout her article, as she raises the issue of ill children who suffer from medical conditions, unable to obtain medical cannabis as a treatment. By making references to a sensitive minority group, the author forces the reader to empathise with her argument and creates an atmosphere for the reader to engage with.

“Signing up to be part of NSW’s medical cannabis trial for suffering children and dying adults is a sign it is at least willing to listen to the people.”

 Overall, Fynes-Clinton’s views journalism piece has been presented with a strong emotive voice which speaks highly in favour of legalising medical cannabis. Fynes-Clinton employs a variety of language techniques to appeal to her audience. The author’s principle claim is that medical cannabis is a significant debate, which affects the whole Australian community, and a debate which should encourage Australians to enrich their knowledge and understand the distinction between medical cannabis and recreational ‘pot’.

While global nations are still recovering from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, state governments continue to explore financial strategies to boost their economic stability. To address the staggering financial deficits, medical cannabis has been a proposed agenda by many legislators to boost tax revenue. Cannabis is recognised as a billion-dollar industry yet while it sounds appealing to many investors, journalist McCauley argues legalising medical cannabis will erupt an ‘explosion of capitalist investment’, becoming unaffordable for many Australians who desperately require this medical aid.

McCauley argues in her article ‘Legalising medical cannabis sounds great, if you can afford it’ published on News.com.au, that investing in medical cannabis measures will generate more financial burden on Australians than boosting a nation-wide economic status.

The author’s principle claim can be identified in the lead sentence of her article:

 “Australia is about to see an explosion of capital investment in a product that, up until recently, has been the domain of the criminal underworld.”

The author introduces her argument by using strong emotive and highly visual language, ‘explosion of capital investment’ and ‘domain of the criminal underworld’. By incorporating these powerful terms in the lead sentence, McCauley immediately presents her argument to her viewers in a captivating mode.

The lead sentence employs an evaluative presumption, which alludes to the potential negative effects of legalising medical cannabis, a significant factor that is often ignored or unknown to the Australian public.

McCauley constructs her article by exploring and presenting and weighing a variety of credible sources. She contrasts the vision of Canadian investment company, Tilray, with the threats of a medical cannabis investment industry for a middle-class Australian mother who seeks medical cannabis for her epileptic child.

“In Australia, we think that medical cannabis has potential to be a billion-dollar industry, and can create thousands of skilled jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars in foreign investment,” the company’s global president Brendan Kennedy told news.com.au.

“Ms O’Connell does not pay for the product, but believes when it is available in the retail market it would sell for between $30 and $100, depending on the bottle size and strength. She has looked at the prices of medical cannabis products available in the United States and found they cost up to $2000 a month.”

 “She fears regulation will push up the price of the product that has allowed her family a normal life — or worse.”

By contrasting the two distinct sources, McCauley creates a well-crafted blueprint of the reality, threats and potentials of legalising medical cannabis.

McCauley appeals to emotion and ethics throughout her news article and through her use of effective descriptive language and journalistic techniques, forces readers to dig deeper to comprehend the reality of a medical cannabis industry. The effective use of Ms O’Connell as a primary case study, alludes to the audience’s emotional values as it encourages readers to empathise with Ms O’Connell in order to understand the hardships that could be enforced on many patients and families by legalising medical cannabis.

Furthermore, alongside its emotional and ethical appeal, McCauley draws upon authority as she frequently lists and refers to politicians who have spoken in regards to the economic aspects of a medical cannabis industry. By commonly referring to the views and opinions of Australian politicians, McCauley adds credibility and proximity to her argument.

“The Federal Health Department says in a statement on its website: “The Government wants to ensure that Australians get access to the most effective medical treatments that are available, but it is important to ensure we follow the principles of evidence-based medicine.”

Overall, McCauley’s hard news article has been constructed using a broad range of journalistic techniques and resources to appeal to a target audience who have not considered the social and economic strains that are more than likely to arise with a nation-wide acceptance of medical cannabis. The author’s principle claim is to inform the readers that the legalisation of cannabis, while effective and crucial, it requires a broader social understanding to ensure it is available and affordable to those in need.

In summation, while both authors have employed an extensive collection of augmentative techniques to present and solidify their views towards the issue of legalising medical cannabis, they have taken on distinct angles towards the issue. Both Fynes-Clinton and McCauley speak in favour of the medical cannabis legislation, however, McCauley has raised a significant threat that the legislation may impose on Australians and the economic function. Thus, although the fight for a medical cannabis society is beneficial to Australia’s health care system, it is important that the general public and government bodies acknowledge and appropriately action the financial and socio-economic aspect of the issue.