Drug Policy Australia is a public health NGO primarily concerned with promoting new approaches to minimise the health risks and other harms caused by the use of both licit and illicit Drugs which affects the wellbeing of all Australians.
"We believe that legally enforced abstinence is unrealistic and counter-productive in modern Australia which has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of illicit drugs in the western world."
According to the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey published by the Australian Government's Institute of Health and Welfare, 3 million Australians aged over 14 used illicit drugs within the preceding 12-months. It is estimated that Australians spend over $7 billion a year on illicit recreational drugs.
Why cigarettes, chocolate bars, heroin, gambling or a new handbag feels so good?
Header image Rakicevic Nenad/Unsplash
Every day we make a range of choices in the pursuit of pleasure: we do things that make us feel good or work in a specific job because it's rewarding or pays well. These experiences help shape our perspectives on life and define our personality.
Consequently, problems with our ability to manage or maintain our pursuit of pleasure often lie at the root of many neuropsychiatric disorders such as addiction and depression.
What's going on in the brain when we experience pleasure?
Pleasure itself – that good feeling you get in response to food, sex and drugs – is driven by the release of a range of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in many parts of the brain. But dopamine release in the brain's reward system is particularly important. Dopamine release tells the brain when to expect something rewarding, modulates how rewarding it will be and drives us to seek rewarding things.Read more >>
Greens leader Richard Di Natale wants Australia to legalise cannabis for personal use, regulated by a federal agency. This proposal is for legalisation of recreational use for relaxation and pleasure, not to treat a medical condition (which is already legal in Australia for some conditions).
According to the proposal, the government agency would licence, monitor and regulate production and sale, and regularly review the regulations. The agency would be the sole wholesaler, buying from producers and selling to retailers it licences.
The proposed policy includes some safeguards that reflect lessons we've learned from alcohol and tobacco. These include a ban on advertising, age restrictions, requiring plain packaging, and strict licensing controls. Under the proposal, tax revenues would be used to improve funding to the prevention and treatment sector, which is underfunded compared to law enforcement.
Cannabis legislation around the worldRead more >>
Reference: Ritter, A., Lancaster, K. & Diprose, R. (2018). "Improving drug policy: The potential of broader democratic participation." The full academic paper and research is available online at the International Journal of Drug Policy.
We need governments to make better decision about illicit drugs. The alternative is to remain stuck in the same futile cycle.
Every time a young person dies tragically and needlessly at a music festival or dance party, our commentators clamour for our politicians to respond immediately. We make drugs policies on the run. But, policy quick-fixes are mostly ineffective and we find ourselves no better prepared to avert future tragedies or drug-related harm.
We need to change the way drugs policies are made.
We have decades of research that tells us what works and we are continuously building that evidence base. Smarter drug policy would involve making use of that evidence alongside and integrated with the other drivers of policy such as public opinion, and personal experience.Read more >>
Recently a lengthy 640-page Inquiry into Drug Raw Reform was tabled in the Victorian parliament. The report looked at how effective the state's current laws were in regards to dealing with drugs, and called for a more effective response centred around health and safety.
The committee looked at not only other Australian state and territories, but travelled overseas to other jurisdictions, such as Geneva, Lisbon and Vancouver, to see how the positive impact of their drug law reforms could be adopted in Victoria.
Inquiry into Drug Law Reform
The report considered referring those who were caught with small quantities of drugs to rehabilitation, treating addiction health issue and looking at 'back of house' testing where police, health professionals and harm reduction organisations work together to identify dangerous substances and alert the community where deemed appropriate.Read more >>
Citation: Hughes, C., Ritter, A., Chalmers, J., Lancaster, K., Barratt, M. & Moxham-Hall, V. (2016). Reproduced with permission: Drug Policy Modelling Program, NDARC, UNSW Australia.
1. Decriminalisation does not mean legalisation: decriminalisation removes criminal penalties for use/possession either by law (de jure) or by practice (de facto).
2. There is strong public support in Australia for decriminalisation approaches.
3. The research evidence indicates that decriminalisation of drug use:
- Reduces the costs to society, especially the criminal justice system costs
- Reduces social costs to individuals, including improving employment prospects
- Does not increase drug use
- Does not increase other crime
- May, in some forms, increase the numbers of people who have contact with the criminal justice system (net widening)
4. Many countries around the world have decriminalised drug use and possession in various ways.
5. Australia currently has a mixture of de jure and de facto decriminalisation schemes for use and possession of illicit drugs: but decriminalisation is not universal. Accordingly, many people continue to be sent to court for possession of only minor quantities of drugs.
6. There is an opportunity to expand decriminalisation for drug use in Australia, particularly through de jure decriminalisation schemes targeting all illicit drugs. This may further reduce costs to the criminal justice system and to individuals.Read more >>
Let me repeat a phrase that has been used so often it is almost a cliché: the war on drugs has failed.
Health professionals, lawyers and policy experts have all made the case against current drug policies. Such is the overwhelming expert opinion against our current approach to drugs that words need not be wasted trying to convince you here.
Nevertheless, critiquing current drug policies often provokes an inquisitive – if at times slightly smug – response, "well, what do we do instead?" To some, drug law reform stirs up images of laissez faire commercialisation of drug markets: a 'McHeroin' on every corner. Of course, this is not what professionals are advocating for.
Instead, there is a growing consensus amongst AOD professionals of the ideal legal framework to tackle drug related harm. To put it simply, most experts are calling for Portugal-style decriminalisation model combined with some model of cannabis legalisation.