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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

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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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It’s time to prepare for a post-prohibition world instead of a futile war on drugs
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VYBerlinaV8_is_back 9:32 am 15 Dec 14

Steven Bailey said :

tooltime said :

We hear your argument that I should be allowed to do what I want with my body, but there’s got to be boundaries somewhere. And no matter where you live, there’s plenty of people who want to play outside the boundaries – so why would we encourage more people to do so?

I’ve got Public Safety concerns too. What do we say to victims “‘Your family was wiped out by some psychotic driver on his way to his meth dealer?” This is akin to a coach saying to an athlete, “Mate, take this drug- let’s see how stronger/higher/faster you can be, the rest of society will pick up the tab.”

It just doesn’t feel right to me. And are you prepared to break the law on the strength of your convictions? That also says a bit about you I reckon…

I’m glad that you appreciate my argument that people should be at liberty to do what they want with their own bodies. I don’t condone driving under the influence of drugs that seriously impair one’s ability to drive safely. Your fears are predicated on the falsehood that drug use would proliferate if legalised. History teaches that drug use decreases with legalisation.

I’m not quite sure what you are talking about in terms of me breaking the law. I would never break the law if it harmed someone else. If I do break the law as a result of my convictions, then I would say yes, it does say something about me.

You’ve admitted on this site to driving drunk and getting into a fight in a pub, also when drunk. I’d say both are examples of breaking the law with the potential to harm someone else.

Make your argument, sure, but please don’t try to take the moral high ground with this.

Steven Bailey 6:01 pm 14 Dec 14

tooltime said :

We hear your argument that I should be allowed to do what I want with my body, but there’s got to be boundaries somewhere. And no matter where you live, there’s plenty of people who want to play outside the boundaries – so why would we encourage more people to do so?

I’ve got Public Safety concerns too. What do we say to victims “‘Your family was wiped out by some psychotic driver on his way to his meth dealer?” This is akin to a coach saying to an athlete, “Mate, take this drug- let’s see how stronger/higher/faster you can be, the rest of society will pick up the tab.”

It just doesn’t feel right to me. And are you prepared to break the law on the strength of your convictions? That also says a bit about you I reckon…

I’m glad that you appreciate my argument that people should be at liberty to do what they want with their own bodies. I don’t condone driving under the influence of drugs that seriously impair one’s ability to drive safely. Your fears are predicated on the falsehood that drug use would proliferate if legalised. History teaches that drug use decreases with legalisation.

I’m not quite sure what you are talking about in terms of me breaking the law. I would never break the law if it harmed someone else. If I do break the law as a result of my convictions, then I would say yes, it does say something about me.

tooltime 2:41 pm 14 Dec 14

We hear your argument that I should be allowed to do what I want with my body, but there’s got to be boundaries somewhere. And no matter where you live, there’s plenty of people who want to play outside the boundaries – so why would we encourage more people to do so?

I’ve got Public Safety concerns too. What do we say to victims “‘Your family was wiped out by some psychotic driver on his way to his meth dealer?” This is akin to a coach saying to an athlete, “Mate, take this drug- let’s see how stronger/higher/faster you can be, the rest of society will pick up the tab.”

It just doesn’t feel right to me. And are you prepared to break the law on the strength of your convictions? That also says a bit about you I reckon…

dungfungus 4:21 pm 24 Nov 14

HenryBG said :

dungfungus said :

There is no such thing as a fatal smoking overdose.

You can kill yourself drinking too much water:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_intoxication

According to Dungfungus logic, we should now have a “war on water”.

Dungfungus may also be interested to view the 5 leading causes of death in this country:

Ischaemic heart diseases

20 046
Cerebrovascular diseases

10 779
Dementia and Alzheimer disease

10 369
Trachea, bronchus and lung cancer

8 137
Chronic lower respiratory diseases

6 649

We can presumably speculate as to the contribution made by smoking to several of these causes of death….

Henry, the point was made that smoking has significant health issues yet it is legal but you want to throw water on it.
Also, the point I made was about a overdose (excessive intake over a short time), not the long term cumulative effects of smoking. That is another issue and I agree with you on the statistics.
I’ll bet you can’t find similar statistics on long term effects of ice.

HenryBG 2:09 pm 24 Nov 14

dungfungus said :

There is no such thing as a fatal smoking overdose.

You can kill yourself drinking too much water:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_intoxication

According to Dungfungus logic, we should now have a “war on water”.

Dungfungus may also be interested to view the 5 leading causes of death in this country:

Ischaemic heart diseases 20 046
Cerebrovascular diseases 10 779
Dementia and Alzheimer disease 10 369
Trachea, bronchus and lung cancer 8 137
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 6 649

We can presumably speculate as to the contribution made by smoking to several of these causes of death….

dungfungus 12:18 pm 24 Nov 14

VYBerlinaV8_is_back said :

I guess the question is whether legalising something is the same as condoning it. For example, everyone knows cigarettes have significant health issues associated with them, yet smoking is not illegal.

I used to be firmly of the opinion that legalising meant condoning, but now I’m not so sure. Given the number of people who use illegal drugs I’m thinking a similar approach to smoking may be the answer. Like smoking, it can be legal and regulated, but you still have only yourself to blame when using damages your health and mental wellbeing.

We’ll need to find ways to detect and prove use to address things like drug driving also.

There is no such thing as a fatal smoking overdose.
How are legalised suppliers of drugs going to regulate the use of what they sell.
Drugs are more addictive than tobacco products so supply of same would have to be controlled.
I recall there was a similar problem with “doctor shoppers” (people who were addicted to prescription drugs) and I am not sure if regulating that by means of pharmacies accessing a national database was successful.
I would rather see convicted dealers be subject to the death penalty and addicts locked up until they were drug free for at least 12 months.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 11:36 am 24 Nov 14

I guess the question is whether legalising something is the same as condoning it. For example, everyone knows cigarettes have significant health issues associated with them, yet smoking is not illegal.

I used to be firmly of the opinion that legalising meant condoning, but now I’m not so sure. Given the number of people who use illegal drugs I’m thinking a similar approach to smoking may be the answer. Like smoking, it can be legal and regulated, but you still have only yourself to blame when using damages your health and mental wellbeing.

We’ll need to find ways to detect and prove use to address things like drug driving also.

HenryBG 10:30 am 24 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 …

Ice is illegal, and yet large numbers of people seem to have no trouble making it, trading it, and consuming it.

How does the war on drugs help us?

Steven Bailey 1:20 am 24 Nov 14

Alderney said :

Steven Bailey said :

being a libertarian means that people should be able to do what they want with their own bodies, but where I may depart from my progressive friends is that if that liberty is used to harm others, especially the vulnerable, it should be swiftly removed.

I think you’ll find that’s liberalism.

Hmmm…

Alderney 7:31 am 21 Nov 14

Steven Bailey said :

being a libertarian means that people should be able to do what they want with their own bodies, but where I may depart from my progressive friends is that if that liberty is used to harm others, especially the vulnerable, it should be swiftly removed.

I think you’ll find that’s liberalism.

Steven Bailey 12:27 pm 20 Nov 14

dkNigs said :

If someone wants to have a bit of a puff, so what? If someone wants to drop a couple of party drugs, that’s their choice.

However I do have a problem with the huge number of ice addicts lining Garema Place, City Walk and Bunda Street trying to pick the ants out from under their skin while begging with their hat for their next fix. So where do we draw the line?

Yes, I agree. Ice is a real problem. I would argue that the proliferation of new and alternate drugs is due to the prohibition of traditional drugs. The will to legislate against drug use will never keep up with the reality that people will always take them. Ice has replaced heroin in many respects. Legalising, and strongly regulating, all drugs will prevent people from choosing more dangerous alternatives. When I say the word dangerous I am referring to all of society: the user, the general public, the child in the park. For me, being a libertarian means that people should be able to do what they want with their own bodies, but where I may depart from my progressive friends is that if that liberty is used to harm others, especially the vulnerable, it should be swiftly removed.

Grimm 11:41 am 20 Nov 14

Legalising drugs…. Making it easier for housos and losers to spend their dole money on things they don’t need rather than feeding their children. Sounds great!

dkNigs 8:26 am 20 Nov 14

If someone wants to have a bit of a puff, so what? If someone wants to drop a couple of party drugs, that’s their choice.

However I do have a problem with the huge number of ice addicts lining Garema Place, City Walk and Bunda Street trying to pick the ants out from under their skin while begging with their hat for their next fix. So where do we draw the line?

chewy14 10:35 pm 19 Nov 14

justin heywood said :

I have a few points:

1. The ‘war on drugs’ is a misnomer, and the pro-drug lobby implies that as the war obviously can’t be won, we should give up. But I would characterise the ‘war on drugs’ as an attempt to limit their use, and in that regard I would argue that we have been reasonably successful. Heavy drug use is not mainstream.

2. Most of the pro-drug lobby admit that they use drugs, mostly only cannabis. So you could be excused for thinking that many may have a personal motivation in advocating more liberal availability of drugs. Curiously they never mention it.

3. Amateur chemists are ubiquitous and innovative – the risk/return ratio is hugely attractive. So it is likely that new, more dangerous and addictive drugs will continue to be developed. In Steven’s brave new ‘freedom’ world, will any and all drugs be permissible? Or is there a limit, and if so, where will that limit be?

1. I would argue that the statistics on illicit drug use put the lie to this statement, they are mainstream, although clearly there would be limitations on access to some people. I think it’s extremely debatable as to whether drug use would increase significantly if their illegal status was changed. It’s also important to note that there are many possible options for regulation from our current position through to complete legalisation of all possible currently illicit drugs.

2. I’ll put my hand up as a weekly drug user…. except my drug of choice is alcohol which is completely legal for me even though it’s detrimental effects are pervasive in our society. And the opposite side of your argument is that the most ardent anti drug lobby supporters don’t take drugs and have often never done so. They often argue from a position of complete ignorance and fear rather than anything rational.

3. As per 1, there are many different options for regulation and there would need to be significant debate as to the pros and cons of each.
But I would also turn this around and say in your world where is the limit? What drugs should be legal or illegal and what is your basis for this stance on each particular drug? Is it going to be harm caused? Addictive nature? Toxicity? Surely everyone on all sides of this argument would at least acknowledge the completely illogical nature of our current laws.

justin heywood 6:41 pm 19 Nov 14

I have a few points:

1. The ‘war on drugs’ is a misnomer, and the pro-drug lobby implies that as the war obviously can’t be won, we should give up. But I would characterise the ‘war on drugs’ as an attempt to limit their use, and in that regard I would argue that we have been reasonably successful. Heavy drug use is not mainstream.

2. Most of the pro-drug lobby admit that they use drugs, mostly only cannabis. So you could be excused for thinking that many may have a personal motivation in advocating more liberal availability of drugs. Curiously they never mention it.

3. Amateur chemists are ubiquitous and innovative – the risk/return ratio is hugely attractive. So it is likely that new, more dangerous and addictive drugs will continue to be developed. In Steven’s brave new ‘freedom’ world, will any and all drugs be permissible? Or is there a limit, and if so, where will that limit be?

Steven Bailey 6:39 pm 19 Nov 14

switch said :

Antagonist said :

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a complete cultural disaster. Afterall, bootlegging spawned speedway and Nascar racing.

And the need for cocktails, to hide the moonshine’s awful taste.

And what a marvellous invention cocktails are – another very good point! 😉

switch 5:38 pm 19 Nov 14

Antagonist said :

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a complete cultural disaster. Afterall, bootlegging spawned speedway and Nascar racing.

And the need for cocktails, to hide the moonshine’s awful taste.

Steven Bailey 3:05 pm 19 Nov 14

chewy14 said :

Mysteryman said :

So *nobody* will buy from non-regulated sources, but there is still going to be a black market? How does that work? You’re living in a fantasy land.

Legalising and regulating alcohol has led us down a path of huge social, behavioral, and health problems all related to it’s consumption. And this despite education, regulation, and taxation. Do you think somehow that regulating drugs is going to magically be different? It’s not the perfect solution that you’re trying to tell us it is. It may be *a* solution, but it’s not even close to perfect and people need to stop acting like it is.

Where did I say “everyone” would buy from regulated sources? Of course there will be a black market, it will just be tiny compared to the current one and the regulated supply. And no one is saying that it would be a perfect solution, it’s just far preferable than the current solution to throw billions of dollars away for almost no gain and plenty of prevenatable real harm caused to many people.

Do you think regulating the supply with appropriate restrictions is suddenly going to massively increase the amount of people doing drugs? Looking at the current usage numbers I don’t think it would have all that big an effect.

Whenever I’m given a choice between supporting more freedom or less freedom, then more freedom wins unless there’s particularly good reasons why that freedom shouldn’t be given. In this case, the more freedom argument wins hands down.

Good point.

chewy14 12:52 pm 19 Nov 14

Mysteryman said :

So *nobody* will buy from non-regulated sources, but there is still going to be a black market? How does that work? You’re living in a fantasy land.

Legalising and regulating alcohol has led us down a path of huge social, behavioral, and health problems all related to it’s consumption. And this despite education, regulation, and taxation. Do you think somehow that regulating drugs is going to magically be different? It’s not the perfect solution that you’re trying to tell us it is. It may be *a* solution, but it’s not even close to perfect and people need to stop acting like it is.

Where did I say “everyone” would buy from regulated sources? Of course there will be a black market, it will just be tiny compared to the current one and the regulated supply. And no one is saying that it would be a perfect solution, it’s just far preferable than the current solution to throw billions of dollars away for almost no gain and plenty of prevenatable real harm caused to many people.

Do you think regulating the supply with appropriate restrictions is suddenly going to massively increase the amount of people doing drugs? Looking at the current usage numbers I don’t think it would have all that big an effect.

Whenever I’m given a choice between supporting more freedom or less freedom, then more freedom wins unless there’s particularly good reasons why that freedom shouldn’t be given. In this case, the more freedom argument wins hands down.

Antagonist 8:55 am 19 Nov 14

Steven Bailey said :

Rustygear said :

Let’s do a swap. Legalise or decrimilalise cannabis and criminalise alcohol. That way, assuming that criminalising drugs actually works, there’ll be a lot less drug-related (i.e. alcohol) societal damage, violence, family breakups and death. I don’t do grog or dope personally, but I can’t see why alcohol keeps slipping off the hook. Probably the fear of all the organised crime that comes with alcohol prohibition. None of that happens around cannabis, right?

The prohibition of alcohol was a cultural and legal disaster, but I love your creative thinking! 🙂

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a complete cultural disaster. Afterall, bootlegging spawned speedway and Nascar racing. But what would Canberran’s and their nanny-state legislators know about motorsports …

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