A recent report by Australia 21 has announced that the 40 year “war on drugs” has failed and despite the tough laws and harsh punishments for offenders, drug usage is increasing in Australia.
Experts on the Australia 21 panel, consisting of 24 former senior Australian politicians, experts on drug policies, student leaders and former head of the Australian Federal police, are urging all countries to assess their current policies on drugs and consider moving towards a different approach to illicit drugs.
The report by Australia 21 stated that “by making the supply and use of certain drugs criminal acts, governments everywhere have driven their production and consumption underground and have fostered the development of a criminal industry that is corrupting civil society, governments and killing our children”.
The report questions the legality of nicotine and alcohol because they create far more health, social and economic costs to society than the current illegal drugs but the report stated that in contrast, alcohol and nicotine “are controlled not by organised crime, but by governments”.
Australia 21 did not recommend or introduce any specific policies but discussed different approaches to illicit drugs which include: de-penalisation, decriminalisation, legalisation, regulation and taxation of drug use.
Professor Jake Najman from the University of Queensland is the director of the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre and has some concerns with the legalisation of drugs.
He said, “the main concern is that if you make something more easily available more people will use it and that would be the issue you’d want to address”.
“We don’t want to be doing things that are going to make drugs more easily available but we want to reduce our levels of punishment so that we are discouraging people, we’re educating them and we’re letting them know what the risks are.”
Prof Najman said, “the punishments could be tempered, be the same kinds of punishments that we have for speeding. So you might get a fine if your picked up for taking an ecstasy pill and if you repeatedly offend you might come to the attention of the criminal justice system. And then there might be a hierarchy of punishments.”
“I’m not suggesting that we don’t discourage people by some modest level of punishment, what I’m saying is that putting people in prison and severe punishments seem to be out of keeping with the level of harm that these drugs produce”, said Prof Najman.
Queensland’s current policy on drugs under the Drugs Misuse Act 1989 provides severe penalties for anyone who is convicted of importing or exporting illegal drugs. Queensland law also provides severe penalties for anyone manufacturing, supplying or possessing illegal drugs. Penalties for these offenses usual include heavy fines, prison terms or community service depending on the amount and type of drug.
Photo provided by J Hayne on Flickr