Attempts to control drug use through the criminal justice system have clearly failed. They have also caused the needless and damaging criminalisation of too many young people, often with adverse life-changing consequences, including premature death from overdose.
Our research and discussion forums amply demonstrate that there is no single magic bullet or solution for the management of this complex problem. Drug law reforms urgently need to be considered by all Australian Governments.
The goals of these reforms should be:
• reducing deaths, disease, crime and corruption,
• improving the protection of human rights of all Australian citizens (especially young people),
• reducing the burden on the criminal justice system, taxpayers and families.
In September 2015, Australia21 held a third Roundtable on drug laws, with law and law enforcement experts. The groundbreaking report from the Roundtable was released in March 2017, with a call for an end to criminal penalties for personal use and possession and a new focus on addressing the health and social issues associated with drug-taking.
Former premiers, police chiefs, prison officers and lawyers stood side-by-side with drug users and their families, to throw down the gauntlet on drug law reform, in response to the findings.
Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely?
‘Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely?’ was launched by former Victorian Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett and former NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr, causing a flood of public and media interest.
It was a powerful sign that Australians are losing their stomach for the failed War on Drugs and instead want an end to avoidable deaths and criminal convictions that ruin lives and often push people towards harder drug use.
Leading the charge was the Roundtable convenor, Australia21 Emeritus Director Mick Palmer. Mr Palmer was the Australian Federal Police Commissioner from 1994 to 2001 and the Northern Territory Police Commissioner from 1998 to 1994.
“Law enforcement can’t solve what is a serious issue and we need a more multi-faceted approach to deal with the problem,” he said.
“What we now have is badly broken, ineffective and even counterproductive to the harm minimisation aims of Australia’s national illicit drugs policy.”
Jeff Kennett, who is the founder of BeyondBlue, called for a new era of brave politics.
“The issue of deaths and wasted lives should always be a top priority for any we elect to govern our affairs. Yet in this area of drugs, I don’t think it gets that priority,” he said.
Mr Kennett pointed out there had been no ‘seminal advance’ in 40 to 50 years with the exception of Sydney’s safe injecting facility, which the report suggested should be replicated elsewhere in Australia.
“Where are the legislators today with the courage to try something different that might, in some way, bring about a change of direction in this particular area of pursuit? I’ve got to say to you, I can’t see them anywhere at the moment.”
Bob Carr, who also served as Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said there should be wide consultation about introducing more medically supervised injecting rooms and pill testing at music events.
“Let’s not be dogmatic, let’s be open minded.”
The Australia21 report calls for an approach that distinguishes between high-end production and trafficking on the one hand, and personal use and possession on the other.
It does not recommend open-slather legalisation of all drugs; instead, it supports incremental, robustly evaluated steps towards a national policy of decriminalisation, standardising the discretionary approach to personal use and possession of cannabis and other substances that is already being adopted by frontline law enforcers at the state and territory level.
Advertising of any legalised and regulated drugs would not be permitted and some harder substances would require stringent controls, such as prescription by a doctor.
HOW CAN MAKING DRUGS EASIER TO ACCESS SAVE LIVES? Read 10 FAQS ABOUT DRUG LAW REFORM here.
Read more about the launch here.
Read the full report here.
Previous roundtable reports and discussion papers
Download Discussion Paper 1 What are the likely costs and benefits of a change in Australia’s policy on illicit drugs
McDonald, D 2011, A Background paper for an Australia21 roundtable, Sydney, 31 January 2012, addressing the question: What are the likely costs and benefits of a change in Australia’s current policy on illicit drugs? Australia21, Canberra.
Download Report 1 The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are all letting it happen
Douglas, R & McDonald, D 2012, The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are all letting it happen, Australia21, Canberra.
Download Discussion Paper 2 What can Australia learn from different approaches to drugs in Europe including especially Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden?
Hughes, C & Wodak, A 2012, A Background paper for an Australia21 roundtable, Melbourne, 6 July 2012, addressing the question: What can Australia learn from different approaches to drugs in Europe including especially Portugal,Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden? Australia21, Canberra.
Download Report 2 Alternatives to prohibition: Illicit drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians
Douglas, R, Wodak, A & McDonald, D 2012, Alternatives to prohibition: Illicit drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, Australia21, Canberra.