Decriminalising illicit drugs. 10 years ago, even the thought of this proposal would create shudders across society. Arguably, even today, many would be fearful of the decriminalisation of illicit substances.
Drugs are harmful. They are deadly, can destroy families and affect innocent people. So why would we even begin to consider making them freely available?
You see, once you get the thought out of your head that decriminalising ice will create millions of ice users and destroy everything, there is complete logic behind this movement.
For the last number of decades, enforcement agencies have been fighting a ‘war on drugs.’ What has it achieved? An increased number of drug users and drug-related crimes. The war on drugs was a failure from the beginning, but we continued to pursue it as if there was no other option. In fact, the medical director of the Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Centre stated that “the current situation is not working.”
Well now is the time to start thinking differently to solve the problem. A special commission of Inquiry into ice by lawyers has recommended the personal use of drugs to be decriminalised and the introduction of further pill testing services and medically supervised drug consumption rooms. The barristers assisting with the Inquiry maintained that the supply of drugs should remain a criminal offence.
This is a significant change from a punitive approach to drug use to a focus upon harm minimisation. The development of this new policy recognises the use of drugs as a health issue and ensures that users are referred to an appropriately tailored health intervention.
Moreover, the recommendations included the appointment of a new minister in the government with a drug and alcohol portfolio to develop a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy that recognised drug use as a health and social issue.
Drug use and the dependence upon drugs often occurs in a context of broad socio-economic disadvantage. The punishment of these crimes through the judicial process is unable to stop the cycle of drug abuse and lack a clear purpose. The individuals most at need require a harm minimisation approach, to save lives and direct them to services for help.
Furthermore, decriminalisation has been found to reduce drug-related harms, reduce the burden on the criminal justice system and improve employment and economic outcomes. It also enables specific services to focus their attention on more important matters. The introduction of the medically supervised injecting centre decreased the number of ambulances called to the area by over 200%, allowing serious health emergencies to take precedence. Additionally, decriminalisation allows for police services to focus upon ceasing the trafficking, manufacturing and supply of illicit substances rather than wasting time with minor possession offences.
Although there are many positives to the prospect of decriminalising the use of drugs, two key areas need to be prioritised before any legislation is changed. There needs to be an increase in the quantity and quality of health intervention services regarding drug use so that they can be useful in helping individuals. Also, the issue of driving needs to be addressed. When marijuana was legalised in an American state, it led to an increase in the number of individuals killed on the roads. The message of not driving while under the influence needs to be prioritised and severe punishments need to be introduced to act as a deterrent.
Decriminalising the use of drugs is a concept which is hard to understand and goes against every notion we are taught from a young age. However, when I struggle with this idea, I always go back to this question:
If ice/cocaine/heroin was legalised, would you take it?
My answer, along with the majority of people, would be ‘no.’
So with that out of the way, let’s go and save the lives of people in our community.