ILLICIT DRUGS: by David PerrinNews Weekly
Drugs war needs a new approach
, April 28, 2012
Illicit drugs should be legalised and subject to taxation, according to a group of 24 prominent Australians.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Bob Carr and 23 other public figures, including former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, former federal police chief Mick Palmer, former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, former federal health ministers Peter Baume and Michael Wooldridge, drugs campaigner Alex Wodak and a couple of students launched a report on April 3, called The Prohibition of Illicit Drugs is Killing and Criminalising our Children and We Are All Letting it Happen — Australian Illicit Drug Policy Report.
Their joint report was published by the think-tank Australia21, which describes itself as “an independent, non-profit organisation whose core purpose is multidisciplinary research and inquiry on issues of strategic importance to Australia in the 21st century”. Much of its funding comes from federal and state governments.
However, this call for the legalisation and taxing of illicit drugs is sadly misplaced and highly dangerous.
As the Melbourne Herald Sun editorial (April 3, 2012) clearly spelt out, legalising drugs will lead to more drug-users and more drug-related deaths. The editorial reminded readers that this policy of surrender has been tried in the past and demonstrated to be an abject failure.
The Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the state premiers, in a show of unity across the political divide, responded swiftly to the Australia21 report and canned the proposal.
The Australia Federal Police produced a secret report in 2011 revealing that Australia is the most lucrative market in the world for illicit drugs because of our high levels of demand for them.
The Australian Crime Commission report in 2011 linked illicit drugs to organised crime conducted by international cartels with the aid of powerful and sophisticated state-of-the-art technology and backed by top legal and financial advisors.
The commission estimated that illicit drugs impose an estimated cost on the Australian community of up to $8 billion each year.
A media release in 2009 by the federal Minister for Health disclosed that four out of 10 Australians over the age of 14 years had used some kind of illicit drug at some point in their lifetimes.
So great is the demand for illicit drugs in Australia, as a result of our pervasive drugs culture, that in 2010 a report by the International Narcotics Control Board disclosed that more than one third of all ecstasy produced in the world is destined for Australia.
So what is to be done? A new approach to tackling the drugs menace is urgently needed.
Australia is bound by United Nations conventions to reduce our demand for illicit drugs in order to curb international drugs-trafficking and associated organised crime.
By now it is overwhelmingly obvious that Australia’s permissive policy of so-called “harm minimisation” has been a failure and needs to be replaced by a new approach that adopts proven best practices from overseas that reduce illicit drug use and the number of drug-users.
For instance, the level of illicit-drug use per head in Sweden is only one fifth that of Australia.
Many years ago, Sweden, in order to reduce the incidence of drug use in the country, used its courts to divert identified drug-users into detoxification programs to get their bodies free of the effects of any drug.
After undergoing detoxification, the user was then placed in court-supervised drug rehabilitation with the sole aim of getting the user off drugs completely. These drug rehabilitation programs are independently audited to ensure that they succeed in their stated objectives.
The drug-user is kept in drug rehabilitation until the program is completed. There is no freedom to walk out of the program, as there is here in Australia. The courts sign off on each completed rehabilitation only when they are satisfied that the program has been a success.
This court-supervised drug rehabilitation program has the support of all the major political parties in Sweden, so the policy is unaffected by any change of government.
Sweden provides a variety of drug rehabilitation models, so courts can choose which is most appropriate for the drug-user.
Drug rehabilitation, in tackling the problem of drug addiction, seeks to educate users about the harmful consequences of drug use so that they will be motivated to quit of their own accord.
While initially costly to set up, in the long-run drug rehabilitation is cost-effective because it saves lives, improves community health and greatly reduces the huge legal costs and trauma suffered by the community as a result of illicit drugs.
The costs to Sweden are nowhere near the $8 billion that the Australian Crime Commission estimates that illicit drug use costs our country every year.
What is lacking in Australia, however, is the political will on the part of the major political parties to tackle the drugs menace.
The federal parliament in August 2003 produced a report, Road to Recovery and another in September 2007, The Winnable War on Drugs, both of which convincingly demonstrated the failure of the current permissive “harm minimisation” drug policies.
It is high time that federal, state and territory politicians adopted the most successful drug policies in the world to make our community safer and to protect Australian children from the toxic drug culture.
David Perrin is the executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.