October 22nd 2005

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: JI's blood-stained prints on the Bali bombings

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Howard's biggest gamble since the GST

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Public outcry against human cloning

NEW ZEALAND ELECTION: How Helen Clark snatched victory

CLIMATE: Don't get steamed up over Arctic melting

ISLAM: Why Indian Muslims reject extremism

SCIENCE AND RELIGION: The rise and rise of Intelligent Design

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Too many crooks spoil the broth / Turkey's EU membership and some masterful wedge politics by Austria / Cultural revolution / Look back in anger / Marriage of science with home economics / The decoy ducks

SCHOOL FUNDING: Giving parents greater choice

DRUGS: New cannabis strategy urgently needed

MEDIA: Media authority blasts Ten's 'Big Brother Uncut'

OVERSEAS TRADE: Australia trading at a loss - myth and reality

ENERGY: US Pushes for energy self-reliance

Media cover-up of Saddam's WMDs (letter)

Rural Australians betrayed (letter)

Embryo vs. adult stem-cell research (letter)


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New cannabis strategy urgently needed

by David Perrin

News Weekly, October 22, 2005
Sweden has succeeded in reducing illicit drug use to as low as 3 per cent of its youth population. Australia can do the same, argues David Perrin, executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.

The federal and state governments have decided to develop a national cannabis strategy to deal with the growing problems of cannabis use in Australia caused by the abject failure of current strategies.

The current flawed philosophy underpinning illicit drug use in the last 20 years is called "harm minimisation", but it has led to an increase in the use of cannabis with consequent problems and costs for the community.

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Australia. Users of cannabis have been starting to use the drug at ever younger ages, some as young as 10 years.

There is a widespread false belief that cannabis is harmless, but in fact it is highly dangerous. Toxins in cannabis have increased so that today these toxins are having a greater effect on users and are having a greater impact on the community.

Deeply flawed

Harm minimisation is deeply flawed for a number of reasons:

  • It writes off drug users as incapable of changing their behaviour.

  • It ignores the serious impact of cannabis on the user.

  • It fails to acknowledge that illicit drug use destroys the user's moral sense, in that drug users neglect their responsibilities while under the influence of drugs.

  • It causes an increase in the number of victims, be they users, their families, people harmed by users, or the community and medical resources wasted in dealing with these problems.

Civilised society has the right and the responsibility to regulate irresponsible behaviour by a minority of individuals in order to protect those individuals from the consequences of their own poor decisions.

The only way to eliminate these adverse effects is to assist users to cease using cannabis.

Overseas countries which have had more success than Australia in combating illicit drug use have adopted a philosophy of harm elimination. They have determined that they will not allow illicit drugs to undermine their community.

In assessing the costs of illicit drug use, they look at all of its impacts on the community and take a long-term view.

Their policies respect the integrity of the user but aim to ensure that each person is rehabilitated so as to make their full contribution to society.

Any new national cannabis strategy must give priority to substantially reducing the number of cannabis users in Australia. This means reversing the current trend of increasing numbers of cannabis users.

To reduce cannabis use, Australia must adopt the world's best practice, based on policies of overseas countries which have most successfully reduced the number of illicit drug users.

Sweden is one such country. It has managed to reduce the proportion of its population using illicit drugs to a rate five times lower than that of Australia.

Sweden has specifically targeted their anti-drugs strategy at teenagers. The evidence is that if a young person has not used an illicit drug by the age 20, they are highly unlikely to use an illicit drug later in life.

Sweden monitors drug use by teenagers each year and so is able to determine illicit drug use trends.

Their annual surveys monitor drug use within the last 12 months by each teenage group and this information is released publicly in order to ensure an informed public debate. All areas of government, as well as non-government, medical, law enforcement, parents and political organisations, accept this illicit drug policy.

Sweden has proven that it is possible to reduce the proportion of the teenage population using illicit drugs to as low as 3 per cent.

Australia must aim to achieve this target too.

Compulsory detoxification

All current cannabis users should be placed into compulsory detoxification and rehabilitation programs.

Detoxification - which is essential to allow the human body to return to normality, free from the effects of cannabis - should be followed by comprehensive rehabilitation to return cannabis users to a drug-free state.

Both detoxification and rehabilitation can be voluntary or court-ordered and may be provided by government or non-government agencies.

For cannabis users who refuse to cooperate on a voluntary basis, Sweden has a system that provides for court-ordered and supervised detoxification and rehabilitation.

Submissions to the Cannabis Strategy should be made by November 30, 2005, and either e-mailed to:


or posted to:

Jennifer McLaren,
National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre,
University of New South Wales,
NSW 2052.

  • David Perrin is the executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.

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