Pubdate: Mon, 11 Dec 2000
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: News Limited 2000
Author: Bill Muehlenberg, national secretary of the Australian Family


DUNCAN Campbell (Opinion, December 6) gives a good summary of the harm
minimisation approach to drugs.

This view says that drug abuse will always be with us, so let's try to make
it safer. It also says that any attempt to ban such substances is doomed to
failure. However, the harm minimisation approach is a defective and
defeatist policy that exists through the perpetuation of myths and

Consider the "banning doesn't work" mentality. Prohibition, Campbell informs
us, has failed. Has it? During Prohibition in the US, consumption of alcohol
declined substantially, as did the cirrhosis death rate for men (cut by
two-thirds between 1911 and 1929), and arrests for public drunkenness
dropped 50 per cent between 1919 and 1922.

But, Campbell asks, what about crime? This is a familiar furphy. The
argument goes like this: by making drugs legal or less prohibitive, drug
prices will decline and, as a result, crime and the black market associated
with illicit drugs will also decline or disappear. It is also claimed that
the legalisation of drugs will remove the profit motive from the drug trade.
And it is argued that the money saved in stopping parts of the drug war or
in taxing the newly legalised drugs can go to rehabilitation.

There are several problems with these arguments.

First, the costs to society of drug use are far greater than any money saved
on reduced law enforcement efforts. Consider the costs of drug legalisation:
lost productivity; increased medical services for addicts and their
families; more car accidents; poorer educational performance; increased
policing; more babies who may pick up their mother's addiction. A recent
study found that the annual cost of drugs to the Australian community is
$14.3 billion. Increase the number of drug users, as legalisation will do,
and you increase this figure as well.

Second, any taxes raised by these legalised drugs will not offset the costs
to society. Indeed, the taxation of legalised drugs will still drive people
to crime. In order for governments to raise enough revenue from drug taxes
to pay for all the costs of increased drug use, taxes will have to be high.

Third, the profit motive abounds in existing legal operations. The alcohol
and tobacco industries are driven by hopes of large profits. If drugs were
legalised, whole new industries would develop to cash in on the trade. Greed
for gain does not disappear when an activity is legalised.

Fourth, black markets exist today for all kinds of legal products. Just
because something is legal does not mean the black market will disappear.

Fifth, crime rates may in fact rise. Advocates of legalisation claim that
such a move will reduce drug-associated crime. But will it? Not necessarily.
Even if we assume that lower prices will cause addicts to steal fewer
valuables, we know that this will be offset by the general crime increase
associated with the increase in users. Any police officer will tell you that
a person on drugs will be more likely to neglect a child, abuse a spouse or
take a life.

The point is, drug use contributes to crime. It is the illegal activities
people engage in while on mind-altering drugs that is the problem. As one
commentator put it, "It's not just that people do bad things to get drugs;
drugs make them do bad things."

CONSIDER some statistics: a 1991 US federal survey found that most of those
arrested in 24 cities for robbery, assault, burglary and homicide tested
positive for drugs; a 1994 study of 31,000 abused and neglected children in
Cook County, Illinois, found that more that 80 per cent of the cases
involved drugs; in The Netherlands, from 1988 to 1993, when drugs laws were
relaxed, the number of organised crime groups jumped from three to 93; a
1992 study of NSW inmates found that 67 per cent of prisoners had been on
drugs while committing the crime for which they were imprisoned; a 2000
study of Australian detainees found that a large percentage had tested
positive for drug use. For example, 70 per cent of adult male detainees
charged with violence tested positive to a drug, and 86 per cent of adult
male detainees on property charges also tested positive.

Also, cheaper drugs do not necessarily mean less crime. When inexpensive
crack cocaine flooded the US in the early 1980s, the rate of addiction
soared, as did crime rates. Indeed, police noted that wherever drugs were
the cheapest, crime rates were the highest.

The truth is that the harm minimisation approach has been tried in Australia
for the past 15 years and it has not worked. Drug use has increased, as have
the number of drug overdoses. A policy that decreases the number of drug
users and helps addicts become drug-free is the only compassionate approach
to the drug problem.
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