Pubdate: Thu, 20 Nov 1997
Source: Canberra Times (Australia)
Author: Pat O'Hare

For many years now Australia has been held in the highest regard
among people working the field of drug policy, public health and
prevention. It was always seen as the place where sensible public
health measures, especially those to combat HIV infection, have
been quickly put into place when deemed necessary.

The low rates of HIV among drug injectors in Australia have been
a tribute to policy makers, professionals including the police,
drug-user organisations, parent groups and politicians at both
federal and state levels.

But now, sadly, it seems that some politicians have lost the
plot. The recent vetoing of the painstakingly prepared ACT heroin
trial was the first sign that all was not well. And now I read of
a new government "zero tolerance" initiative to stop people using

It is necessary only to look in the direction of the USA to see
how ineffective this kind of strategy is in achieving anything
but a few votes.

A glance for example at the statistics for marijuana use in the
USA and the Netherlands is quite revealing. In all age groups the
percentage of people who have ever used marijuana is higher in
the USA, the country of zero tolerance where cultivation of
marijuana plants for medical purposes can get you 90 years in
jail. Among younger teenagers almost twice as many have used
marijuana in the USA as in the more tolerant Netherlands.

I find it a great pity and I am somewhat dismayed that it has
come to this in Australia, a country which for some years has
been a beacon of light but which now looks to be heading for some
dark days in which the only beneficiaries will be the criminals
and where the people of Australia will be the losers.

Pat O'Hare
Executive Director
International Harm Reduction Association
Liverpool England