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Drug policy reform

April 5, 2012

Prior to becoming Foreign Minister, I participated in a roundtable discussion on drug policy reform organised by think tank Australia21. I talked about my stance with Richard Glover on 702 ABC yesterday. Click here to listen to our discussion.

First, let me say that I don’t believe in legalisation. I have no idea how it would work. The drugs black market would continue to operate. My argument is primarily about the best use of police resources. During my time as NSW Premier, I saw police effort going into personal use of ecstasy and marijuana and I wasn’t impressed by it. The mobilisation of police resources to hit nightclubs and pubs didn’t strike me as the most effective use of police time. On the other hand, I wanted them to hit the suppliers and close down the labs.

I suppose this argument leads to a de facto decriminalisation at one end of the spectrum. This position may be criticised as contradictory but ultimately there is nothing logical about illegal drugs.

In addition to effective and efficient use of police resources, my focus is also on keeping people alive with the ultimate goal of rehabilitation, as opposed to facilitating recreational use. I place emphasis on harm minimisation as opposed to wholesale legalisation and decriminalisation. Take, for example, the introduction of the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre during my time as Premier. An independent evaluation of the Centre carried out by eminent doctors, professors and criminologists found that the more often a drug user went there, the more likely they were to undertake treatment.

Understand my position: I don’t apologise for going after the Mr Bigs. I don’t apologise for having a prohibition regime. But I think at this end of the scale, when it comes to personal use of ecstasy or marijuana, the best use of police time is not standing outside a nightclub or wandering around a train station with sniffer dogs. Those people aren’t doing any harm except, arguably, to themselves.

  1. Lindsey permalink
    April 5, 2012 10:57 am

    Hear, hear!

  2. April 5, 2012 11:15 am

    Thank you for making sense of this topic…. and having the courage to speak out.

  3. sheree permalink
    April 5, 2012 11:44 am

    ditto, with too many politicians scrambling to outdo each other with their tough (but ineffective) policies on illegal drugs, it’s good to see harm minimisation getting a run

  4. April 5, 2012 11:47 am

    Harm reduction and harm minimization policies have to be the focus of any successful and beneficial drug policy.

  5. Dr Jack Giles permalink
    April 5, 2012 12:04 pm

    Untreated addicts will find the means to satisfy their addictions, legally or otherwise-even if it kills them. With due deference to Morris and Hawking, It is past time to make change direction in illegal drug management to seek compliance with social objectives of limiting damage caused by drugs rather than continued pursuit of failing enforcement of punitive provisions for possession and use of “recreational” drugs. With all respect to and admiration of those those involved in law enforcement, current efforts are more like sustained yield harvesting of drugs coming into the Australian market than effective control of supply, and unsuccessful enforcement can result in undesirable collateral effects including increased unit price of drugs to addicts who will buy them anyway, increased crime associated with obtaining the means to purchase and increased violent competition between suppliers to secure and increase market share of an increasingly valuable commodity. I was disappointed that the legal injecting room strategy did not proceed further and would like to see a proper analysis of the benefits and costs of these facilities.

  6. Mike Jensen permalink
    April 5, 2012 12:11 pm

    you present a rational viewpoint that, unfortunately is one that our popularist politicians refuse to address. in todays political landscape which is all about posture and little about public welfare there is little hope of intelligent honest perspective from the topmost eschalon of government. In respect to marijuana it is simply a no brainer that the futile attempts to eradicate what is after all a harmless natural weed is in itself a criminal waste of public money, police rescources and political credabiity

  7. In Tempore permalink
    April 5, 2012 12:42 pm

    What political bluster. “I don’t believe in legalisation”! What do you believe in then, Bob?

    It’s not about “police time” or the Mr Bigs. You’re trying to look principled, while really copping out. You appeal to the notion of personal freedom to justify scaling things back, but won’t go all the way. Unfortunately, most of the punters will think such relativism honourable, somehow a good thing.

  8. daiskmeliadorn permalink
    April 5, 2012 2:12 pm

    This has me worried that I’m suffering early-onset alzheimers. Aren’t you the very NSW premier who introduced sniffer dogs to this state? And therefore the single person most responsible for the waste of police time that is “standing outside a nightclub or wandering around a train station with sniffer dogs”?

    It’s a bit hard to take the rest of your argument seriously if you’re going to rewrite history like that.

  9. hempanon permalink
    April 5, 2012 3:01 pm

    Your having a bob each way here Bob but let’s just leave it simple.

    I am a male baby boomer who has used cannabis for 40 years. I don’t drink, other than a glass of wine with dinner probably 5 times a week. I’ve never injected drugs intravenously. I’ve snorted cocaine twice and years ago I occasionally yielded to a dexamphetamine temptation if it was produced at a party. Way back in the day I took far to much LSD when we were all tuning in, turning on and dropping out but that was over 30 years ago.

    Since then cannabis has been to the fore in both my recreational and medicinal regime and I use it as a colleague might use a whiskey or two in the evening. My drug won’t give me a headache, in fact I’ve known it to make one go away as recently as yesterday.

    I want to be able to continue as I have lived for 40 years unmolested. I also want to be able to grow enough so that I know what is going into my body at a price I can afford and I want to be able to use it as a medicine for ailments that arise as we get older.

    Yes, the problem is filled with minefields but I don’t see my part in the saga as being a problem to anyone, even myself. So what needs to happen to turn my furtive illegal habits into what they should be, normal activities in my everyday life?

    That’s what I’d like to know Bob and fortuitously, the Nimbin Mardi Grass is being celebrated on the first weekend in May. I believe a couple of retired NSW politicians are attending and I’m sure you would be warmly welcomed. Doubtless you’d be hailed as a hero, especially if you could see a way to solve my problems with the failed war on drugs. You can be sure that there will be thousands of people there with the very same concerns as mine.

    Of course I understand why you might not be able to make it, haha.

  10. April 5, 2012 3:11 pm

    Legalizing potentially dangerous recreational drugs is the only rational policy. Like abortion, it is hardly desirable, but the alternative is worse. Prohibition, even with fearsome penalties, simply doesn’t deter people who are driven by circumstances and forces beyond their personal control. Countries like Singapore and Indonesia which have far more severe (capital) penalties for drug smuggling than they have for terrorist activity, still have active drug industries!
    A small number of enlightened countries have moved to decriminalize drug use, notably Portugal, where drug use has declined and rehabilitation is up. This outcome is in dramatic contrast to the results of the prohibition at any cost strategy, which, in terms of US$ in the so called war on drugs declared by Nixon in the ’70s, has been as successful as most of America’s recent wars. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been wasted criminalizing and incarcerating millions of her own citizens, which has been far more damaging and hugely more expensive than an open slather policy on harmful drugs could ever be. The record in the US is not just unfortunate, it is utterly damning! The drug trade which was once mostly confined to low grade marijuana and a little heroin in the major capitals, is now diversified with a dozen new, more dangerous chemicals, each with its attendant cocktail of toxic extenders and enhancers, and has become entrenched in regional centres around the country. Much of the trade is conducted by ethnic minorities traditionally marginalized by society. It has become the second most lucrative sector of the economy (after finance), employs millions, and now involves ten times more people than it did 40 years ago!
    The absurd response from authorities is to say ‘Imagine how bad it would be if we weren’t taking so many dealers and their drugs off the streets?’
    The simple fact is that detection and enforcement, even at the highest level of the illicit drug market are among the principal drivers of the price of drugs, and do more to energise the industry than they do to inhibit it. The enforcement industry, from police, prosecutors, courts, prisons and parole officers, is now an important economic sector in its own right, one that has seen California build five new prisons and no new universities in the past ten years. It is an industry which has a vested interest in continuing the un-winable war.
    I believe it is utterly misguided and a dereliction of the duty of a socially responsible democratic government not to take its damaging foot off the accelerator of this pernicious and destructive trade.

  11. atheos68 permalink
    April 5, 2012 3:13 pm

    Nicely said Mr Carr. It’s refreshing to see a politician with his own views and happy to state them, even if just to start a discussion. We’ve seen too much of the views of focus groups, shock jocks and newspaper owners coming out of the mouths of our leaders lately. Please keep talking to us like adults, and we might even find some respect for politicians again.

  12. Caleb Livingstone permalink
    April 6, 2012 5:20 pm

    “I have no idea how it would work. The drugs black market would continue to operate”

    Do you see a thriving black market for alcohol in the United States? Don’t be silly, Mr Carr. How many people would be buying overpriced dirt weed (low quality) from a shady dealer when they can walk into a licensed shop and buy nommy, nommy rich green buds from someone behind a counter (ie. Amsterdam or California if you have [insert made up pain here])?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      April 6, 2012 8:39 pm

      Not my point. Legalise the main drugs and there will be a black market in new exotic hybrids and mixtures. Legalise them as well? Regardless of health?

      • April 23, 2012 9:42 am

        You seem to miss the point, Bob. Legalizing ALL illicit drugs removes it from the criminals. Drug related crimes will plummet and prisons will empty. But to be fair, illicit drugs needs to be handled by the Health dept, not the police. Having it under the jurisdiction of police is just plain stupid. It is like going to the butcher to get a loaf of bread.

        Getting fined and a permanent criminal record for smoking pot is just crazy. Legalizing all drugs gives the incumbent government more control on how it is produced, sold and used. The government could even generate revenue from this. Illicit drugs is a health issue, not a police issue.

  13. April 7, 2012 8:48 am

    In the section of the Australia21 report ‘In a nutshell’ I read-

    “This is a very complex issue that demands proper community discussion of a range of alternatives to prohibition, that are now being considered everywhere including in the United States where the failed war on drugs and prohibition began.”


    “It is time to stop sloganeering and insist to all of our political representatives and to our media that Australia must have an informed national
    debate about the alternatives to a policy that has failed disastrously and is criminalising our young.”

    To concentrate our attention on such things as the use of sniffer dogs and possible future drugs that might be created by rogue chemists hardly assists in an informed national debate. A future drug takers Nirvana of legality is never going to happen so can we talk about decriminalisation of existing drugs where evidence exists that they cause less harm than alcohol and tobacco and are not as addictive as caffeine? Surely that is where we should start in our efforts to have both the community and our political representatives talking sense about Cannabis and ecstasy which I suggest is where we should start.

    Anyone who hasn’t heard Alan Jone’s interview with former federal Health Minister Dr Michael Wooldridge should listen to it here.

    I was amazed that Mr Jones is in total agreement with the report and look forward to his future contributions.

  14. April 7, 2012 8:57 am

    That post under the name of whinavi should have been posted under the name hempanon.

    I’m having a battle with posting under the wordpress regime.

    Sorry about that.


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