ALA welcomes support on health-based drugs policy

3rd Apr 2012

The Australian Lawyers Alliance welcomed the Australia 21 report to be released today by prominent Australians such as, Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, former Health Minister Michael Wooldridge, former AFP Commissioner Mick Palmer and former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC, arguing that the 40-year war on drugs has failed and a new approach, that includes decriminalising some substances, should be adopted.

This report, which advocates controlling drug use through legalisation, regulation and taxation, endorses what a number of countries are already doing to stop the needless incarceration of millions of people because of the failure by governments to treat drug addiction as a health issue not a criminal justice issue.

The ALA National President, Greg Barns, last year called for a national conversation on drug policy in Australia, including potential legalisation. The ALA was the first legal organisation in Australia to do so.

Mr Barns said the ALA welcomes this significant development in moving to end the reliance by policy makers on the criminal justice system to deal with the issue of selling, possession and use of drugs.

“Every day in our courts, magistrates and judges are forced to use tired and irrelevant rhetoric about “the evils of illicit drugs” when they, along with everyone else in the courtroom, know that laws in this area are a monumental failure,” Mr Barns said.

“It is time that all Australian legislatures heed the growing calls (such as those in the media today) and rip up existing drugs laws and replace them with health-based regimes like those that have existed in Portugal for more than a decade,” he said.

The Portuguese government moved at the turn of the century to decriminalise possession, use and small sales of drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and amphetamines.

People found in possession, or who sell these drugs, are provided with the opportunity to enter the health system where they receive support and counselling.

“Three years ago the Washington-based think tank, the Cato institute, found that the Portuguese drug law reform experiment had been overwhelmingly successful, with reductions in drug addiction among key age groups such as teenagers and individuals in their twenties,” Mr Barns said.

The other great benefit to the Australian community, in decriminalising drugs and focusing on health and lifestyle issues, instead, would be a major community cost saving.

“Somewhere between 60 and 80 per cent of crime, such as armed robberies and burglaries, for example, are drug related. There is a cost to the community in terms of the impact of these crimes on both the victims and perpetrator who generally are incarcerated in prison for long periods.

"If we were to tackle drug use in a way that ensures early intervention and diversion into the health system, then we would reduce both the numbers and impacts of these serious crimes.

"The ALA notes that the Australia 21 report follows the two reports from the Global Commission on drug policy, which has recommended similar measures as recently as last year. The Commission includes among its members Richard Branson and three former Latin American presidents, as well as former Reagan administration advisers,” Mr Barns said.

Tags: Criminal justice Health, medicine and law