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It’s time to prepare for a post-prohibition world instead of a futile war on drugs

By Steven Bailey - 18 November 2014 40

drugs-stock-171114

It’s time for the proponents of drug prohibition to take responsibility for their simplistic assertions.

Last week local 2CC radio presenter Marcus Paul and I shirt-fronted one another in a heated discussion concerning the failed world-wide war on drugs. It would be fair to say that we encountered some seemingly irreconcilable differences regarding our stances on illicit drug use. Marcus mentioned at the end of the interview that it was ‘his radio program’ so he would have the final say. Well Marcus, in this here forum not only do I have the final say; I have the only say. So, hold on to your britches and allow me to elucidate to you some facts before I redress the simplistic prejudice that so typifies the civic discourse of Australian talkback radio.

Marcus refused to accept my stance that there is a ‘drug culture’ in Canberra and Australia.

According to the United Nations 2014 World Drug Report, Australia has the highest proportion of recreational drug users in the world. Concurring with the UN, a report on Illicit drug use in Australia by the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre asserts that 33.6% of Australians have admitted to using cannabis, 9.1% admit to using amphetamines, 7.5% admit to using MDMA, 7.5% admit to using hallucinogens, 4.7% admit to using cocaine, and 1.4% admit to using heroine.

Although Marcus admits to being one of the 33.6 % of Australians who have used cannabis, he asserts that he has never used any other illicit substances, and that back in ‘his day’ a ‘drug culture’ did not exist. What a load of myopic and jingoistic poppycock!

Having grown up without electricity, a flushing toilet, and a piano instead of a television, I silently chuckle when people 10 to 20 years my senior wax lyrical about the good old days. Nonetheless, I digress.

I’m guessing that Marcus might have used an illicit drug of some sort a little more than once or twice, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – he’s a decent guy. But Marcus, where were you during the ‘80s and ‘90s; on the f***ing moon? Notwithstanding that if you were a young person during the ‘60s you might well have thought that you were on the moon as a result of a prevalent culture of psychedelic drugs, the ‘80s and ‘90s saw an exponential rise in the recreational use of stimulant and opioid based substances in Australia.

Elected officials have a moral responsibility to make decisions based in the reality within which they legislate, and I would suggest that radio hosts have a responsibility to acknowledge the reality within which they commentate. Unfortunately neither does either. The fact is that people take drugs, and society has a choice: to ignore the facts by imposing criminal sanctions on people who use drugs, or to deal with the facts with compassion, courage, and conviction. And yes, that means regulating all drugs.

In our discussion Marcus proposed that Australia should invest more money into drug law enforcement – as if we haven’t already squandered enough.

According to Harvard Economist Jeffrey Miron, the cost of the war on drugs in the USA, over the past 40 years, has amounted to 1 trillion dollars. And based on federal government statistics our governments spend in excess of 3.5 billion dollars per year, of our money, on combatting illegal drug use. And the days of big spending governments are over?… give me a break.

The legislative prohibition of drugs in Australian has resulted in a $6.7 billion illegal market.

How much more money would you like to see us waste, Marcus? A billion? 10 billion? Approximately 27,000 Australians have committed suicide in the past decade – perhaps we could spend some more money on that.

In 2001, Portugal abolished all criminal penalties for personal drug possession. Drug use did not rise; it fell. Can Australia do the same? I would say, yes we can. I hope for a society marked by freedom and fairness rather than falsehoods and fear, and I’m willing to fight for it – even with you, Marcus.

Regulating all drugs, and educating people of the risks involved in the use of drugs, is the only way that we can protect young Australians from taking dangerous substances – such as party pills cut with Ajax.

I mentioned to Marcus that I aspire to one day having children of my own, and that it is likely that they will at some stage be exposed to risky drug taking behaviour. Marcus retorted: ‘not if you bring’m up right’. In the past fortnight, Georgina Bartter died from a reaction to a party drug at Sydney’s Harbourlife festival. Did her parents not bring her up right? Indeed, did the 3,000 parents who this year lost a child to a drug related incident not bring their children ‘up right’? No, of course they didn’t. But would some of those children still be alive if their substance of choice was regulated and manufactured under controlled conditions? Yes, of course they would.

The discussion on drugs is not progressed by the jingoism of radio hosts who puff the failed policies and conservative ideologues. The discussion on drugs will be progressed by an intelligent and humane public discourse.

Marcus, let me know when you’d like to contribute to such a discussion.

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(Recording from 2CC)

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40 Responses to
It’s time to prepare for a post-prohibition world instead of a futile war on drugs
rosscoact 9:13 pm 18 Nov 14

Tooks said :

rosscoact said :

The Portugese experience is a perfect demonstration of what happens when you legalise drugs. This isn’t a fantasy, it is a 13 year operation of a considered government policy proven to reduce the harm that drugs do to society.

We could do a lot worse than this….oh, hang on we are doing a lot worse right now.

Drugs aren’t legalised in Portugal. They are decriminalised. Not saying their model isn’t worth looking at but please don’t spread that myth.

Yes, you are correct. Decriminalised, but for all drugs, and with no provision for police to coerce with threats of harsher penalties if you don’t cooperate.

Tooks 8:34 pm 18 Nov 14

rosscoact said :

The Portugese experience is a perfect demonstration of what happens when you legalise drugs. This isn’t a fantasy, it is a 13 year operation of a considered government policy proven to reduce the harm that drugs do to society.

We could do a lot worse than this….oh, hang on we are doing a lot worse right now.

Drugs aren’t legalised in Portugal. They are decriminalised. Not saying their model isn’t worth looking at but please don’t spread that myth.

chewy14 8:31 pm 18 Nov 14

Mysteryman said :

chewy14 said :

Mysteryman said :

Regulating all drugs, and educating people of the risks involved in the use of drugs, is the only way that we can protect young Australians from taking dangerous substances – such as party pills cut with Ajax.

In my opinion, it’s pretty naive to think that regulating drugs will result in only “pure” drugs in the market. Do you really think that all the people who currently manufacture and sell will decide to either quit doing so, or do so under regulation? I certainly don’t think so. And I don’t think they will start paying tax on what they sell, either. Despite the insistence of the pro-legalisation crew, legalistation will not result in only clean drugs being sold under the control of the government.

Indeed, did the 3,000 parents who this year lost a child to a drug related incident not bring their children ‘up right’? No, of course they didn’t.

How do you know that? You don’t.

Why would people take drugs from risky and unregulated supply if they knew that they could get clean, guaranteed drugs from a regulated supplier?

Legalising and regulation of drugs and drug use is the only way forward. The “war on drugs” is a clear failure that only ensures more people die.

If the supply is regulated, I would assume the government would place limits on how much can be purchased – much the same way as the supply of alcohol to intoxicated people is supposed to be. Addicts are likely to look elsewhere if they are being cut-off for their own safety. And yes, despite regulation, there will still be addicts. You’ll also have people who are underage wanting to buy, just like they do now. I don’t think the government will be fond of selling to minors, but plenty of other people will.

Yeah but you don’t currently see a lot of moonshine getting around these days either.

I’m sure addicts and underage people would try to get their hands on more but I’d still think most of it would be sourced from the regulated government supply rather than underground labs as currently occurs.

Pork Hunt 7:53 pm 18 Nov 14

I agree 100% that the “war on drugs” is a failed campaign and some drugs should be legalised and or decriminalised.
However, what thought has been given to occupations/industries that have mandatory drug testing?
Marihuana, for example stays in the system long after the high has gone yet is a driving offence if use is detected by roadside testing.
Measuring the level of impairment following drug use has to be considered in any argument regarding this matter.

Steven Bailey 7:48 pm 18 Nov 14

Masquara said :

Talk to the A&E people who deal with ice addicts in psychosis, Stephen, then get back to us with what you’ve learned …

Other than being exposed to your unique form of psychosis, I speak with a number of doctors – three on a regular basis. I also speak with staff who work in Canberra’s emergency departments. Most medical professionals agree that the legal prohibition of drugs has resulted in a cultural catastrophe.

Masquara 5:54 pm 18 Nov 14

Talk to the A&E people who deal with ice addicts in psychosis, Stephen, then get back to us with what you’ve learned …

Mysteryman 4:26 pm 18 Nov 14

chewy14 said :

Mysteryman said :

Regulating all drugs, and educating people of the risks involved in the use of drugs, is the only way that we can protect young Australians from taking dangerous substances – such as party pills cut with Ajax.

In my opinion, it’s pretty naive to think that regulating drugs will result in only “pure” drugs in the market. Do you really think that all the people who currently manufacture and sell will decide to either quit doing so, or do so under regulation? I certainly don’t think so. And I don’t think they will start paying tax on what they sell, either. Despite the insistence of the pro-legalisation crew, legalistation will not result in only clean drugs being sold under the control of the government.

Indeed, did the 3,000 parents who this year lost a child to a drug related incident not bring their children ‘up right’? No, of course they didn’t.

How do you know that? You don’t.

Why would people take drugs from risky and unregulated supply if they knew that they could get clean, guaranteed drugs from a regulated supplier?

Legalising and regulation of drugs and drug use is the only way forward. The “war on drugs” is a clear failure that only ensures more people die.

If the supply is regulated, I would assume the government would place limits on how much can be purchased – much the same way as the supply of alcohol to intoxicated people is supposed to be. Addicts are likely to look elsewhere if they are being cut-off for their own safety. And yes, despite regulation, there will still be addicts. You’ll also have people who are underage wanting to buy, just like they do now. I don’t think the government will be fond of selling to minors, but plenty of other people will.

Postalgeek 4:12 pm 18 Nov 14

As long as the police power freed up in a post-prohibition world is redirected towards a major and permanent increase in roadside drug testing, I don’t have a problem with it.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 3:14 pm 18 Nov 14

There’s no winning solution, only ‘least losing’.

Legalise them, educate people, and if people still hurt themselves then it’s on their heads (and their kids, families, friends, etc).

Some people just wanna get high.

Gilbert 3:05 pm 18 Nov 14

Very emotive stuff but not, I’m afraid, new. The debate over drug use has raged since JC played full-back for Jerusalem! Only the ‘type’ has changed. When I was a hippi uni student back in the 70’s the legalisation of dope was the big story and society waxed and waned but very little change was affected.

Steven mentioned the word: “education” – and as long as people refuse to face facts and educate themselves (or at least listen to another point of view) the status quo will continue to be maintained. Do the protagonists of ‘drug legalisation’ simply choose not to look at positive results of different methods of tackling the continuing problem? Do they simply not get the fact that conservative governments continue to throw good money after bad in “enforcement” strategies?

The resolution of drug use in society is not simple but misinformed comment does nothing to help. Is ‘education’ so abhorrent to people that they would prefer to remain ignorant than discover information that may change their mind?

Keep fighting the good fight Steven. Love your work!

chewy14 2:38 pm 18 Nov 14

Mysteryman said :

Regulating all drugs, and educating people of the risks involved in the use of drugs, is the only way that we can protect young Australians from taking dangerous substances – such as party pills cut with Ajax.

In my opinion, it’s pretty naive to think that regulating drugs will result in only “pure” drugs in the market. Do you really think that all the people who currently manufacture and sell will decide to either quit doing so, or do so under regulation? I certainly don’t think so. And I don’t think they will start paying tax on what they sell, either. Despite the insistence of the pro-legalisation crew, legalistation will not result in only clean drugs being sold under the control of the government.

Indeed, did the 3,000 parents who this year lost a child to a drug related incident not bring their children ‘up right’? No, of course they didn’t.

How do you know that? You don’t.

Why would people take drugs from risky and unregulated supply if they knew that they could get clean, guaranteed drugs from a regulated supplier?

Legalising and regulation of drugs and drug use is the only way forward. The “war on drugs” is a clear failure that only ensures more people die.

Antagonist 2:25 pm 18 Nov 14

HenryBaits said :

Steven, have you considered that Australia manages drugs the best we can? Why go to the extreme of legalising all drugs? What happens if we do legalise all drugs and the situation becomes worse? Will you still stand by your position with blood on your hands?

You missed a key word: *personal*. Abolish penalties for *personal* drug possession. That would still mean dealers/traffickers are still committing an offence – and will be treated like the criminals that they are.

rosscoact 2:25 pm 18 Nov 14

The Portugese experience is a perfect demonstration of what happens when you legalise drugs. This isn’t a fantasy, it is a 13 year operation of a considered government policy proven to reduce the harm that drugs do to society.

We could do a lot worse than this….oh, hang on we are doing a lot worse right now.

Mysteryman 2:14 pm 18 Nov 14

Regulating all drugs, and educating people of the risks involved in the use of drugs, is the only way that we can protect young Australians from taking dangerous substances – such as party pills cut with Ajax.

In my opinion, it’s pretty naive to think that regulating drugs will result in only “pure” drugs in the market. Do you really think that all the people who currently manufacture and sell will decide to either quit doing so, or do so under regulation? I certainly don’t think so. And I don’t think they will start paying tax on what they sell, either. Despite the insistence of the pro-legalisation crew, legalistation will not result in only clean drugs being sold under the control of the government.

Indeed, did the 3,000 parents who this year lost a child to a drug related incident not bring their children ‘up right’? No, of course they didn’t.

How do you know that? You don’t.

HenryBaits 2:00 pm 18 Nov 14

Steven, have you considered that Australia manages drugs the best we can? Why go to the extreme of legalising all drugs? What happens if we do legalise all drugs and the situation becomes worse? Will you still stand by your position with blood on your hands?

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