Discussion on Drug Law Reform
A group of academics and others at Sydney University yesterday started a dialogue under the chair of Professor Bob Douglas AO exploring alternatives to continuing criminalisation of drugs in Australia. I was happy to join the discussion.
Dr Alex Wodak made the point that the corrupting effect of the illegal trafficking of drugs wasn’t limited to Mexico – and the destruction of Mexico figures big in my open-mindedness about the value of continuing prohibition – and pointed to the entire Victorian Drug Squad, a scandal in the Crime Commission in NSW, and the conviction of a senior drug squad official in South Australia. These confirmed it was not just Mexico that struggled with the problem. Wodak said, “We are a mini Mexico.”
He used the argument if you can’t keep drugs out of prison, you have very little chance of keeping them out of any corner in society; and if a quantity of drugs sells for $300 in the streets of Bangkok but $300,000 in Kings Cross, then there is going to be a strong force for importation and the black market here.
Something I picked up from the discussion: education is the least effective way of reducing harm. Interesting, people who should know say bluntly it doesn’t work no matter how it’s shaped and directed.
After 40 years experience of law and order, most of these experts were arguing, it’s clear that criminalisation doesn’t work. The challenge you will face, I suggested, is that someone like John Howard will argue that you are proposing a leap in the dark. That as unsatisfactory as things are now, they could be worse. And you’ll be told that deaths from heroin have fallen 1,100 a year to 400 a year.
Some young participants in the discussion reminded us of the reality that youth cultures are normalising drug use. They pointed out that a combination of stimulant drugs with hallucinatory qualities are considered routine at dance parties.
I spoke about the NSW experience in defending the provision of clean needles to drug users, and persuading the public to accept the experiment of a medically supervised injecting room, as well as decriminalising personal use of marijuana and expanding methadone treatment.
One restraint on any process of decriminalisation is our international treaties. They would stop an Australian government decriminalising drugs (although they don’t appear to have stopped Portugal).
The debate will go on.
I don’t think a change of policy is imminent.