Pubdate: Sat, 06 Jun 2015
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2015 The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Matt Noffs
Note: Matt Noffs is chief executive of the Noffs Foundation.


NSW has decided that the best way to deal with the current ice 
problem is to have a media campaign.

Last Friday the NSW Bar Association hosted a conference with the 
single theme of a debate on the association's position paper titled 
"Drug Law Reform". Those who attended weren't the bleeding heart 
type. They included eminent health educator Professor David 
Penington, Associate Professor Nick Lintzeris from the NSW Ministry 
of Health, Professor Ian Webster from the University of NSW, senior 
members of the legal fraternity, Dr Alex Wodak from St Vincent's 
Hospital Sydney and former NSW Police Superintendent Frank Hansen.

This was not a line-up of the usual suspects wanting to lambast the 
government for its drug policies. This was a gathering of some of the 
finest minds in the country. And, overwhelmingly, the conference 
declared our prohibitionist method of dealing with drugs to be part 
of the problem. The Bar Association's paper states "the current 
prohibitionist approach to illicit drugs has substantially failed in 
that it has had limited effectiveness in reducing drug availability 
or drug use".

The harms resulting from [this] approach for drug users and the wider 
community are considerable. Yet, less than a week later NSW has 
decided that the best way to deal with the current ice problem is to 
have a media campaign encouraging the public to "Dob in a Drug Dealer 
or Meth Lab". That's the best we can do? I think not. And it comes 
hot on the heels of the Commonwealth government splashing out $20 
million on its anti-ice ad campaign. Anti-drug ad campaigns don't 
work. The US government, between 1998 and 2006, spent $1.2 billion on 
its National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. The campaign, 
specifically targeting marijuana, was independently evaluated by a 
government-appointed research company. In considering the evaluation 
the Government Accountability Office concluded that the campaign had 
"no significant favourable effects on marijuana initiation among 
non-drug using youth or cessation and declining use among prior 
marijuana users".

And yet NSW thinks a media campaign to ask the public to dob in a 
dealer is money well spent. It's not. When you start a law and order 
campaign around drugs you end up with low-level users facing court 
and going to jail. The big players rarely seem to get swept up. The 
courts and jails are full now and the cost is almost breaking the 
bank. Invest just one 10th of that money in treatment and early 
intervention programs and you could probably cut the prison budget by 
25 per cent. The police say we need more treatment services, the 
community says it, all the health experts say it, the Australian 
Crime Commission says it. For goodness sake, Mr Baird, just deliver it!

Even the US, the originators of the "let slip the dogs of war" 
approach to drug issues, is having a rethink. Legislators have woken 
up to the economic and social havoc being wreaked.

According to US Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than a quarter of 
a million people were incarcerated at year-end 2011. In federal 
prisons more than half those sentenced to a term of more than a year 
are there for drug crimes. More than half are African American. The 
vast sums required to run the penal system are unsustainable. So some 
states have moved to decriminalise cannabis and more and more states 
are heading that way. And it probably won't be long before they start 
looking at drugs other than cannabis. They have to, because they 
can't afford to keep locking people up.

So why does the NSW government perform a very passable ostrich 
impersonation when all the evidence shows that beefing up drug law 
enforcement just doesn't work?

Political expediency maybe? A few votes but not many. On this issue 
the tide is turning, just as it has on samesex marriage.

The biggest dealers live in palaces, have lawyers and accountants. 
Who will be caught up in this "dob 'em in" campaign? The majority, 
those who end up sharing their drugs among friends like attendees at 
a Tupperware party. In other words, it's our children who end up in 
the justice system.

And it's not just money that is wasted when a young life hits 
juvenile detention - it costs over $150,000 to lock up a young person 
and often allows them to create large syndicates and realise a life 
of crime early on in the piece.

So money is squandered. But more to the point, this again shows how 
the War on Drugs ends up being a War on our Children.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom