Pubdate: Sat, 02 Apr 2016
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2016 The Age Company Ltd
Author: Greg Denham
Note: Greg Denham is executive officer of the Yarra Drug and Health 
Forum and a former senior sergeant of Victoria Police.


The Money Governments Pour into Stopping the Flow of Drugs Could Be 
Better Spent on Education, Treatment and Better Healthcare.

You may have read recently that the late John Ehrlichman, a senior 
policy adviser to disgraced United States president Richard Nixon, 
admitted that the administration's 1971 declaration of a "war on 
drugs" was an invention, a lie.

Its purpose was a political diversion; to create the perception of 
fear and uncertainty among the US population. It was directed at 
young blacks and leftist "activists" who became the scapegoats and 
collateral damage of the so-called "war". Know thy enemy.

The drug war was framed around several premises: drugs are innately 
dangerous; people who use drugs are dangerous and subversive; and 
governments will always act in your best interests.

Drugs allegedly seized by police in Wolseley Road, Point Piper. 
Photo: NSW Police

"Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did," Ehrlichman said.

Successive governments in the US and elsewhere, including our own 
administrations, unconditionally committed to Nixon's war. In the US 
today $400 billion is poured into the criminal justice system each 
year to deal with drug-related issues. Most of the people who end up 
in jail or prison  about two-thirds  are there for minor drug 
offences; most are black. More people are incarcerated per head of 
population in the US than any other country, including China.

Australia spends nearly $2 billion each year addressing drug issues. 
Nearly two-thirds of this is spent on law enforcement, with minuscule 
amounts directed to prevention, treatment and harm reduction. We are 
still trying to arrest our way out of this problem. Despite billions 
of dollars being spent to halt drug abuse, they are cheaper, purer 
and in greater supply than ever before.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and British entrepreneur Sir 
Richard Branson have both described prohibition as a failure, and 
rightly so. Both have called on the UN to take a more considered and 
evidence-based approach towards drug policy.

Branson has called for all drugs to be decriminalised. He advocates 
the Portuguese approach, in which the decriminalisation of drug use 
and the directing of resources to education, treatment and better 
healthcare has led to reduced crime and disease and improved safety.

However, if drugs are decriminalised, one piece of the puzzle is 
still missing. Enforced by criminal gangs, the illicit drug market is 
unregulated and uncontrolled. Contaminated drugs are still sold on 
the streets, offered to anyone who is prepared to pay the price. 
Profits from the trade are invested in other criminal activities such 
as people trafficking and weapons distribution.

The violence associated with protecting and enforcing illicit drug 
market territory is an inevitable consequence of a system that gives 
control and power to criminals, not the police.

There's no better demonstration of this than in our own backyard. 
Just look at the body count from the brutality of the drugs trade. We 
can't hope to be successful in minimising the impact of drugs unless 
we go the full distance; we should legalise all drugs.

In New York next month the United Nations General Assembly Special 
Sitting will be convened. The Assembly will meet from April 19-21 
(these dates are important). There's high expectation that the UN 
will adopt a more evidence-informed and human-rights-based approach 
to international drugs policy.

Some of those who have been closely involved in the process of 
advocating for policy change are optimistic that a stronger 
statement, possibly even a complete policy reversal such drug 
decriminalisation, will emerge.

Their optimism was boosted in October last year when a communique 
issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was leaked. It 
proposed that member states should move towards decriminalising drug 
use. The communique was "pulled" - apparently at the behest of the US.

Sadly, early indications are that the UN will not demonstrate the 
leadership and vision needed to steer international drugs policy 
towards approaches based on and informed by evidence, health and human rights.

Importantly, it will also avoid acknowledging that drugs policies are 
harmful, not drugs. The majority of people who use illicit drugs do 
so safely, with limited harmful consequences. It seems it will be 
business as usual.

I hope I am wrong. It appears that decades of critical analysis of 
the costs of drug prohibition and the harmful consequences had never 
happened. It seems the UN may choose to ignore state-sanctioned 
executions, arbitrary detention and removal of human and legal 
rights, massive prison overcrowding, the rise of organised crime, the 
spread of disease and rampant corruption in law enforcement and 
judiciary the world over.

Of course, the dates of the New York meeting in April are of 
particular significance to many. The UNGASS meeting will be convened 
almost to a year the day when two young Australians - Myuran 
Sukumaran and Andrew Chan - paid the ultimate price and consequence 
of the war on drugs.

The body count will continue unless the UN can show true leadership 
and give the world some clear direction and steer us in another direction.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom