Scientists, lawyers, police, social workers, doctors and directors of public prosecution are pleading for change but no political party will touch the issue in Australia. Public debate on the subject remains as primitive as ever. After all these years we are still dealing with the basics – over and over again. That's no accident. It's what moral panic driven by some media does.
Windows of opportunity for changing drug laws open infrequently and they often close without legislative change being affected. In this paper the author, who has been intimately involved in the process, describes how evidence-based recommendations to ‘decriminalize’ cannabis have recently been progressed through public debate and the political process to become law in Western Australia (WA). This paper describes some of the background to the scheme, the process by which it has become law, the main provisions of the scheme and its evaluation. It includes reflections on the role of politics and the press in the process.
It is time to reopen the national debate about drug use, its regulation and control. In June 2011 a prestigious Global Commission stated that the 40-year “War on Drugs” has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. It urged all countries to look at the issue anew. In response to the Global Commission report, Australia21, in January 2012, convened a meeting of 24 former senior Australian politicians and experts on drug policy, to explore the principles and recommendations that were enunciated by the Global Commission.
Ecstasy users should not be charged by police, former Labor health minister Neal Blewett said during a provocative keynote address to the peak police drug and alcohol forum in Australasia. Dr Blewett believes resources should target the most serious drug abusers, adding that cannabis laws around the country were ''chaotic'' and also needed reform. ''Already we struggle with drugs, including designer drugs scarcely on our horizon in the past,'' said Dr Blewett.
In its report on the methamphetamine market, the Australian Crime Commission identified ice as the illicit drug posing the highest risk to Australia. Perhaps it’s time to establish a safe place for ice users along the lines of the heroin injecting centre: a place where users can be monitored, where adverse physical and mental reactions to the drug can be professionally dealt with.
A number of other countries have implemented changes in law that significantly reduce the extent of criminalization of marijuana use. Only in Australia and the Netherlands have there been any changes on the criminalization of the supply side and in neither of those countries is it legal to both produce and sell the drug. The relaxations so far, with the exception of the Netherlands, have not been very great i.e. have not much changed the legal risks faced by a user of marijuana. Thus it is perhaps not surprising that the changes in prevalence of use have not been substantial. This paper provides a brief review of the changes that have been tried outside the US. The emphasis is on the nature of the changes and how they have been implemented rather than on outcomes.
There is no reliable evidence that tougher criminal sanctions deter drug use or offending. On the contrary, criminalisation worsens the health and wellbeing of drug users, increases risk behaviours, drives the spread of HIV, encourages other crime and discourages drug users from seeking treatment. A report by Australia21, Alternatives to Prohibition, subtitled Illicit drugs: how we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, sets out the lessons learnt about the failed war on drugs from other countries, especially Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal.
The case of the Australian boy arrested on drug charges in Bali offers the opportunity to review our nation's own response to drug use, both here and abroad. While empathy for the boy's family is warranted and genuine, the case should also raise the question of what would happen to someone in Australia caught with a similar small amount of cannabis or other illicit drug.
A bill to legalise medical marijuana could be put to Victoria's parliament before the end of next year, with the Labor government determined to reform the state's drug laws. Premier Daniel Andrews said that the Victorian Law Reform Commission had been asked to submit a report in August next year to determine not if, but when and how the laws should change to allow terminally and chronically ill people access to medicinal marijuana. (See also: National marijuana legalisation inches closer with new bill)
Almost two-thirds of Australians support the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, according to a new poll which coincides with a renewed push to relax the laws. It comes as NSW Premier Mike Baird indicated that he supported the use of medical marijuana, despite having concerns about its supply and regulation. Earlier this month Cassie Batten was questioned by police after admitting to using cannabis oil to treat her disabled three-year-old, who has epilepsy and suffers from profound seizures.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, is among a group of prominent Australians who said the ''war on drugs'' is a failure. ''The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are letting it happen,'' says a report released by the group, which includes the former federal police chief Mick Palmer, the former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, the former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, a former Defence Department secretary, Paul Barratt, the former federal health ministers Michael Wooldridge and Peter Baume, and the drug addiction expert Alex Wodak. (See also: Gillard and Carr divided over decriminalisation of drug)
"As a 33-year police practitioner who was commissioner of the Australian Federal Police during the 'tough on drugs' period, I fully understand the concerns of those who argue there is no reason to reconsider drug policy and I shared many of them until recent years," the former commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and director of the Australia 21 think tank, Mick Palmer, writes. "The reality is that, contrary to frequent assertions, drug law enforcement has had little impact on the Australian drug market. This is true in most countries in the world."
A report by a group of prominent Australians that recommends Australia rethink its criminalisation of illicit drugs has been backed by the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association. The report recommended that cannabis and ecstasy be decriminalised for people aged 16 and older, who are willing to be recorded on a national confidential user's register. Users would be able to purchase drugs from an approved supplier, likely a chemist.
Five Labor and three Conservative governments adopted harm minimisation as Australia’s official national drug policy on 2 April 1985 and every Commonwealth, state and territory government since then has implemented harm minimisation programmes.
The number of people arrested for possessing drugs in New South Wales (Australia) has doubled over the past six years, with NSW leading a national trend towards increased law enforcement directed at individual drug users. Yet the spike in arrests appears to have done nothing to stem the tide of drug use, with the state this week hitting the 1 million mark for the number of people who have recently used illicit drugs. The data comes as the NSW Bar Association released a report finding drug prohibition has been a failure and calling for reform. (Fact sheet: Cannabis and the law)
The Criminal Law Committee of the NSW Bar Association decided to look at the available research on illicit drugs and the current government drug strategy in order to come to a view on whether law reform was necessary. In a detailed discussion paper, the committee considered options for reform. One possibility is decriminalisation of cannabis, a drug where the risk of harm, while real, appears modest compared with other illicit drugs and even alcohol and tobacco. That would have a significant impact, given that 12,000 offences for possess/use cannabis were dealt with in NSW courts in 2012-13. (Fact sheet: Cannabis and the law in Australia)
Australians should be able to buy a pure form of ecstasy from their local pharmacy to curtail the harm caused by contaminated blackmarket pills. Melbourne pharmacist Joshua Donelly and leading doctor Professor David Penington say many Australians taking the drug were probably swallowing contaminated versions that put them at greater risk of harm. In the Journal of Law and Medicine, Donelly said although no drug was completely risk-free, compared to other drugs MDMA caused "negligible" harm to users and people around them.