Illicit drugs policy – Background

In June 2011 a groundbreaking report, War on Drugs was released by the prestigious Global Commission on Drug Policy that included the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan and a number of former heads of state and experts on drug policy stated that the 40 year “War on Drugs” had failed with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. The commission urged all countries to examine this important policy issue anew.

Accordingly, in September 2011, Australia21 appointed a steering group that included a number of Australian experts on illicit drug policy. Their task was to work towards an Australian review of the policy of prohibition instigated in 1953, which would also explore what might be involved in moving to a different approach to illicit drugs in Australia.

The group recommended a high level exploratory roundtable on the topic “What are the likely costs ad benefits of a change in Australia’s current policy on illicit drugs?”

In preparation for the roundtable, social researcher, David McDonald was commissioned to prepare a background paper (download Illicit Drugs Policy Background Paper 1) which defined common terms used in drug discussions and considered important threshold questions.

The one-day roundtable discussion that was hosted by the University of Sydney on 31 January 2012 included 24 former senior state and federal politicians, experts in drug policy and public health, young people, a leading businessman, legal and former law enforcement officers.

The report on this discussion (download Illicit Drugs Policy Report 1) was launched on 3 April at a press conference in Parliament House Canberra. It received widespread press coverage and stimulated a great deal of debate in the mainstream media.

A second background paper (download Illicit Drugs Policy Background Paper 2) was prepared to explore different approaches to drugs in Europe including especially Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden and to facilitate discussion at a second Australia21 roundtable held in Melbourne on 6 July 2012.

Following the roundtable a second report (download Illicit Drugs Policy Report 2) was launched by Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, on 9 September at the Adelaide Convention Centre, prior to 2012 Population Health Congress.Lisa Pryor

The report focuses on what Australia can learn from the experiences of three countries (Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands) which have liberalised their drug regimes in some way, and one country (Sweden) which has followed a strict law-enforcement policy.

On Tuesday 12 September 2012 Senator Di Natale (Greens, Victoria) moved a motion in the Australian Senate recognising the importance of evidence-based approaches to harm minimisation and the valuable contribution made to this debate by Australia21

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