PM gets tough on "harmless" drug THE Federal Government is planning a national anti-marijuana campaign to combat community perceptions that it is a relatively harmless drug. Prime Minister John Howard has criticised health experts for adopting what he says is a "relaxed" attitude to marijuana in comparison with the attack on tobacco. And he has called on states and territories to abandon a decade of decriminalisation and introduce tougher laws to deter marijuana users. "It amazes me that we can be so zealous in dissuading people from smoking - and I used to smoke, I'm not a cleanskin - we're really up front about that ... but the same people who are virtually criminalising smoking are prepared to take a relaxed attitude to marijuana," he told The Sunday Telegraph last week. Mr Howard said there was overwhelming evidence that marijuana posed greater health risks than it used to, and the Government would launch a further campaign in 2006 to highlight the risks. "We really do have to completely disabuse people of this notion that there's a safe use of marijuana," he said. "It's just not a safe drug. It can have life-long effects; it can lead to depression, other forms of mental disorders. It can lead people to other drugs. "Any state that has decriminalised marijuana should reconsider that decriminalisation, and any states that are considering it should not." Although there are signs that marijuana use has declined in recent years, cannabis remains the most popular illicit drug in Australia, with 33 per cent of the population aged 14 and over having used it in their lifetime. Other research has shown that more 12- to 15-year-olds have tried cannabis than have smoked tobacco. Offenders in NSW are cautioned for possessing small amounts of the drug. Mr Howard said there was a clear link between marijuana usage and suicides. "We're playing a very heavy price in mental health breakdowns for over-indulgence of so-called safe drugs. "Marijuana is far less safe now than it was in the '70s." The Prime Minister's comments won support from community workers involved in helping chronic cannabis abusers. The Salvation Army's Captain Paul Morrice, who runs a recovery farm for drug addicts at Morisset, said society appeared to have gradually accepted marijuana use and considered it little different to alcohol. "It's getting to the socially accepted stage, and I think that's dangerous. It's not socially acceptable, it's not good for you, and it can be addictive." Thirty-year-old former user Greg Driscoll said he had become a cannabis addict after smoking as many as 150 cones a day in his water pipe or bong. "It started with just a smoke once a week with my mates. "Then it was every second day, and then it was every day for most of the day. "For a while, I didn't think there was anything wrong. I knew better than everyone else." Mr Driscoll, who is recovering at Morisset, said his 10-year habit had eventually left him unable to function normally. "I couldn't work or go down to the shops to get something to cook," he said. Paul Dillon, of the Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, said an official campaign would not deter users. "It will reinforce those who have decided not to do it, and may be useful for those considering it," Mr Dillon said. There was no evidence marijuana was getting stronger, he said.