War on Drugs Lost. Should drugs be decriminalised?
By Joseph Correy
ACCORDING to the Daily Telegraph, Sydney’s senior law enforcement agency has made the astonishing admission that they have lost the war on drugs.
The shocking revelations follow a recent report by the NSW Crime Commission which says “organised crime is at levels not seen previously in NSW”. “Methamphetamine (ice) and cocaine supplies are high and prices for both are considerably lower than five years ago,” the report says.
“Commendable law enforcement efforts around the country have resulted in larger seizures and more arrests, but they have had little, if any, effect on the quantities of prohibited drugs available for consumption in Australia.”
The commission’s admission is at odds with claims by NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione that crime in the state is going down.
“According to statistical reporting, mainstream crime has been slowly reduced over time … however, the observed situation in relation to organised crime is considered to be the opposite,” the report says.
One senior law enforcement officer told the Daily Telegraph: “The chances of having your car stolen or house broken into” may have dropped “but the chances your children will get hooked on drugs are a lot higher”.
“There is no way of sugar-coating it. Organised crime in this state and the rest of the country is out of control and cannot be stopped without a radical change.”
The UN agrees Australia has a drug problem. Its 2014 World Drug Report confirm Australia as leading the world in the use of party drug ecstasy, third in methamphetamines and fourth in cocaine.
So what is the radical change required?
Greens leader Richard Di Natale is pushing for the decriminalisation of illicit substances, arguing that drug-taking is a health issue rather than a criminal offence. He said arresting drug users was not working and believes decriminalisation would help combat the drug scourge.
Senator Di Natale said criminal penalties were stopping drug addicts from seeking treatment and taxpayer funds were being spent on policing rather than rehabilitation.
“If we could say to every ice user in the country ‘come forward, you’re not going to be charged, but you’ll get instant access to a (rehabilitation) bed’ … that’s the question we need to be asking as a society,’’ he said. “What we are doing at the moment isn’t working. It’s a policy approach that’s just failing us.’’
Senator Di Natale said he favoured the approach taken by Portugal, which decriminalised drug use in 2001. Dealers are prosecuted, but addicts caught with small amounts of drugs are sent to a “Dissuasion Commission” – made up of health and legal experts – who can hand out rehabilitation referrals, small fines or cautions.
Drug use and drug-induced deaths in Portugal have reportedly reduced since the policy was introduced.
Senator Di Natale said the Greens also supported calls to test ecstasy pills for toxins so users could get high, but “don’t die”.
The CEO of the Ted Noffs Foundation Matt Noffs agrees it’s time for a robust discussion on decriminalisation and regulation of drugs, including Ice. He has the backing of Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Dr Alex Wodak, who sees the horrific consequences of the ice epidemic everyday at St Vincent’s Hospital.
Mr Noffs has called for a plan similar to the methadone program, which helped break the stranglehold of heroin. His plan would have the state hire chemists to create their own pure form of ice and administer it to addicts in a safe place.
Under the plan, ice could be bought and administered at a safe centre similar to the Kings Cross injecting room. Ice users would have fill out a form to get the drug, meaning health experts have a record of users.
Mr Noffs said creating ice cheaply would help kill the black market.
“The reason we were able to get in front of heroin is because we were brave enough to think of something as crazy as saying we are going to help someone inject heroin, and you can tell everyone’s response to that at the time, was this is ludicrous.”
Is it time to take an alternate approach to drugs in society or should the wars on drugs be bolstered in the hope give the police more ammunition will finally make a dent in the illicit drug trade.
Joseph Correy is a partner at Criminal Law firm, AC Law Group. He is a criminal lawyer with offices in the Sydney CBD, Parramatta, Blacktown and Redfern.