Pubdate: Sat, 24 Feb 2007
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2007sThe Australian
Author: Gary Hughes
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


FORMER royal commissioner and inaugural National Crime Authority 
chairman Don Stewart says attempts to deal with the growing illicit 
drug problem through traditional law enforcement methods have failed. 
The retired judge, who headed a royal commission into drug 
trafficking in Australia in the 1980s, says illegal drug use should 
be treated as a public health issue.

"I have slowly come around to the point where I believe the handling 
of it in a criminal way is never going to work," Mr Stewart told The 
Weekend Australian. "Punitive measures will not work. We can't go on 
the way we are."

In a book to be published next week, Mr Stewart says the five years 
he spent as a NSW District Court judge before retiring in 2003 had 
convinced him illicit drugs were "a problem of gigantic proportions".

"The use of such drugs has become part of our culture, particularly 
among young people who treat such use as the norm," he says in the book.

"Prohibition of alcohol didn't work in America, why should 
prohibition of other drugs that people want work anywhere else?

"All sorts of solutions are put forward, but as more and more 
experienced people recognise, there cannot be total elimination, only 

As a royal commissioner, Mr Stewart carried out the first detailed 
examination of drug trafficking in Australia, including the 
operations of the notorious "Mr Asia" drug ring.

As chairman of the NCA he travelled around the world looking at law 
enforcement strategies in the war on drugs.

He found that Britain and France admitted to stopping only about 
10per cent of illegal drugs crossing their borders.

In an interview to mark the release of his autobiography, 
Recollections of an Unreasonable Man -- From the Beat to the Bench, 
Mr Stewart said he had no reason to believe Australia was any more 
successful in stopping illicit drugs entering the country.

Governments were afraid to move away from the law enforcement 
approach to illegal drugs because "people feel safer leaving it the 
way it is", he said.

Mr Stewart said he had become a "great fan" of the Alcohol and Drug 
Service at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital, headed by Alex Wodak, 
which was helping lead the way in detoxification programs.

"I am as convinced now that the medical solution is the only way 
forward as I was once convinced that the criminalisation approach was 
best approach," he said.

Mr Stewart's book claims that the NCA "lost most of its clout and had 
lost its way" before it was succeeded by the Australian Crime 
Commission in 2003.
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