Pubdate: Sun, 11 Oct 2015
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2015 The Age Company Ltd
Author: Greg Denham
Note: Greg Denham is a former member of Victoria Police and the 
Australian representative for the US-based Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.


Most wars end. One of the longest in history, the Hundred Years War, 
finally ended in 1453. However, a war that has been fought 
internationally for nearly as long, the "war on drugs", continues 
almost unabated, causing havoc and misery for many people in our community.

Winston Churchill once said: "However beautiful the strategy, you 
should occasionally look at the results." Rarely do we look closely 
at the effectiveness of drug prohibition and the war on drugs.

A close analysis, however, shows that globally over the past four 
decades more than a $US 1 trillion has been spent on a strategy that 
has led to the incarceration of millions worldwide solely based on 
their drug choice, thousands have been put to death as a "deterrent" 
(including two Australians in Indonesia this year), families have 
been destroyed because of overdoses and HIV, young lives ruined 
because of a criminal record, law enforcement and public officials 
have been corrupted, and criminal gangs have reaped the rewards of a 
policy that has failed to curb demand. Yet illicit drugs are cheaper, 
and more available and accessible than ever before.

A good example of the failed war on drugs was the recent comment made 
by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graeme Ashton, who highlighted 
the risks that powerful psychoactive stimulants "Turbo Ice", may pose 
in the near future. There's no doubt that the illicit drug market is 
constantly shifting and new drugs are a worry. However, the current 
alarm over the use of ice is not a new phenomenon. This is the third 
time in recent history that the drug has caused major concerns.

The shifting drug scene is a direct result of global market forces 
and prohibition. Once the "squeeze" is placed on a certain type of 
drug, another one takes its place. Imagine you are grabbing a balloon 
and squeezing it, the other side of the balloon pops out. This is the 
result of displacement.

There's a strong demand for drugs in Australia. We are an affluent 
society and we like to enjoy ourselves. This may come as a shock to 
many people (except the third of the population who have used an 
illicit substance), but most people use illicit drugs because they 
enjoy them. Yes, drug use is "FUNctional" for many. It's highly 
unlikely that drug use, even recreational use, will ever be 
eliminated. Nearly every society throughout history has used drugs. 
Drugs are here to stay.

Research shows that people who use illicit drugs want certain things 
from their drug of choice: they want to know exactly what it is that 
they are taking, they want it to be safe, they would rather use 
something that is legal and they don't want to be stigmatised and 
discriminated against purely based on their drug choice. Yet the 
prohibition policy, in setting out to deter drug use, contradicts all 
of these and, in effect, leads to drugs becoming dangerous and 
deadly. It's not drugs that are necessarily harmful, it's drug policies.

We can no longer hide behind the scapegoating, stigma and 
discrimination of drug users to blatantly try to deter others from 
drug use when we know that prohibition is in itself counterproductive 
to drug safety. Statements such as "we can't arrest our way out of 
this", by retired Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, are 
encouraging, but very little is changing at the ground level. Drug 
crime statistics are still dominated by drug users and we continue to 
pursue net-widening laws such as those that target people at dance 
parties and drivers with historical drug use.

So, if prohibition has failed, what are the alternatives?

In Portugal, where all drug use was decriminalised 15 years ago, the 
results are positive. Drug use there has declined and overdose and 
HIV rates among users has reduced significantly. Portugal shifted 
much of the resources it once directed towards policing and the 
criminal justice system to health, education and employment programs.

One of the only criticisms of the Portugal drug decriminalisation 
policy is that it did not go far enough. There is still an illicit 
drug market there because of the prohibition policy.

It's time that Australian policymakers started to seriously look at 
what is happening overseas and reflect the global trend in drug 
policy reform. We can no longer turn our back on alternatives by 
using the excuse that things aren't so bad here because we have the 
"balance right"  because we don't. Scaling up harm reduction such as 
supervised injecting facilities, needle and syringe programs in 
prisons, heroin prescriptions and increasing access to treatment 
would be a good start.

However, unless we invest in alternatives to prohibition and look at 
a regulated and controlled system of accessing currently illicit 
drugs then we will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. A 
system can be developed that allows access but tightly controls and 
regulates drug availability and eliminates the mistakes we have made 
with alcohol, especially the pricing, access, promotion and marketing 
of this harmful substance.

As Albert Einstein said: "The definition of insanity is doing 
something over and over again and expecting a different result."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom