In describing in her findings arising from a wide ranging inquest into six fatal opioid overdose events, current illicit drug policy as “futile” and likely to exacerbate drug related harm, the NSW Deputy State Coroner, Harriet Grahame, urged the NSW Government to have the courage to commit to conducting a summit on drug decriminalisation.
On any reading of her findings, it seems clear that these are opinions directly driven by the facts as presented at the inquests and the coroner’s frustration, in the face of this evidence, at the continuing refusal or inability of the government to do more to stem the frequency of overdoses across the State.
I share her frustration.
It's 110 years since international cooperation on drug control began. In February 1909 the International Opium Commission in Shanghai saw governments from around the world come together to address what was dubbed “the opium question”, by proposing a global plan to suppress illicit opium use and markets. The meeting kicked off a century-long project of ever increasing international collaboration to eradicate illicit drug use and markets, culminating in the three United Nations drug treaties adopted in 1961, 1971 and 1988.
Since the 1970s, and the start of the “war on drugs”, these efforts have been marked by the increasing use of laws focused on punishment, policing, prisons and even the military as core tools of drug enforcement. Alongside this there has also been an escalation of human rights violations linked to drug control.
While ignored for many decades, the human rights consequences of drug enforcement are an increasing concern within UN bodies. In some cases, this is the result of years of patient campaigning by civil society organisations and affected communities. In others, it has been triggered by gross human rights violations linked to drugs, such as state killings, the death penalty for drug offenders and HIV epidemics driven by unsafe injecting drug use.
While this attention is welcome, it has rarely resulted in systematic or operational change within UN mechanisms to ensure the protection of human rights. But this is now beginning to change.
The United Nations Chief Executives Board (CEB), comprising 31 heads of UN agencies and associated programs, has released a policy statement endorsing the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use. The same document also outlines a broader intent to shape international drug policy in terms of public health, human rights and sustainable development.
The 'directions for action' provided in the statement include a pledge 'to promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use'. This represents a significant advance from the UN's previous position.
“Why are the police proceeding with this?” was my question. My client said what she had in her pocket barely registered on the police station’s weighing machine.
One of my first cases as young lawyer was plea bargaining for a PhD university student arrested for a small amount of cannabis because she happened to be talking to a person ‘of interest’ to police. Other people are unlucky too.
Harm-reduction advocates are calling for the legalisation of some drugs, and the removal of criminal penalties on others. And there's public support for both.
But how did some drugs become illegal in the first place? And what drives our current drug laws?Read more
As another year ends, the Directors and I would like to thank you for your support in 2018 and wish you a happy Christmas.
It's been a huge year for drug policy reform in Australia and around the world.
Here are a few of the incremental but significant developments.
- Australia's second Safe Injecting facility opened in Melbourne;
- Australia's first pill testing trial went ahead in Canberra;
- 3 Australian Parliamentary Political parties now support Cannabis legalisation;
- Canada became the second country and first Commonwealth member to legalise adult use of Cannabis;
- NZ legalised the use of Medical Cannabis by creating a "Legal Defence" for using Herbal Cannabis for medical purposes. (compared to Australia where herbal medical cannabis users and suppliers are still prosecuted);
- Dr Andrew Katelaris was acquitted of drug supply charges for providing Cannabis oil on the grounds of "medical necessity";
- NZ government has agreed to a referendum on legalising Cannabis by 2020;
- Mexican and South African High courts have ruled that Cannabis prohibition is unconstitutional.
These are positive developments, but there is a lot of work to be done to reform Australia's counterproductive drug laws which is why we need your help.Read more
Is it time to call a truce in the war on drugs? Dr James Freeman looks at the evidence; and the evidence shows prohibition has failed, and decriminalising drugs ought to save lives and deliver both social and economic benefit.
The recent tragic drug related deaths of two young festival goers has seen calls for drug testing to be made available at these events. In a conversation on Facebook, I expressed my doubts that festival drug testing would have any meaningful impact for a number of reasons, but essentially because of this single statistic from the ABS:Read more
Portugal Decriminalised Drugs in 2001 - Should Australia do the same?
Our police and politicians say we cannot "arrest our way" out of Australia's drug problem. Then why not decriminalise personal drug use so people can get help if and when they need it?
On the 26th June Drug Policy Australia with 15 Supporting AOD organisations held the inaugural Melbourne Town Hall forum to celebrate 'Support. Don't Punish' day - a global initiative calling for drug policies that prioritise public health and the human rights.
The forum featured health professionals, politicians, journalists and community leaders, including Tony Trimingham OAM, CEO of Family Drug Support, Sam Biondo, Head of VAADA and Dr Stefan Gruenert, CEO of Odyssey House Victoria as well drug policy opinion leaders like state MP Fiona Patten who will talk about the recently released Victorian Drug Inquiry and Michael Short, Chief Editorial Writer for The Age.
FULL SPEAKER LIST in order of appearance:
- Greg Denham, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
- Stephanie Tzanetis, Head of HRVic's Dancewize Program
- Nick Kent, President of Students for Sensible Drug Policy
- Sam Biondo, Head of Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association (VAADA)
- Dr Stefan Gruenert, CEO of Odyssey House Victoria
- Michael Short, Chief Editorial Writer for The Age
- Fiona Patten, Member of the Victorian Drug Inquiry
- Tony Trimingham OAM, CEO of Family Drug Support
Australians have a more progressive stance to cannabis reform than current laws reflect.
A poll conducted by the Greens this week found that the majority of Tasmanians support the decriminalisation of recreational use of cannabis in the state.
This is in line with the findings of the latest 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSH Survey) showing Australians largely support the decriminalisation of cannabis and the use of medicinal cannabis, and a growing number support full legislation of cannabis.
A recent study also found more than half of surveyed Australian GPs are in favour of prescribing medicinal cannabis.
Despite opinion polls, Australian state laws flip-flop on their approach to cannabis decriminalisation. For example, South Australian Attorney Attorney-General Vickie Chapman recently announced plans to quadruple fines for people found in possession of more than a small quantity.
Support for DecriminalisationRead more
Dr Sally Wilkins is a Melbourne-based Consultant Psychiatrist who works in forensic mental health, addiction medicine and homelessness.
Last year a new state-of-the-art men's prison called 'Ravenhall', opened in the western suburbs of Melbourne. A private corporation, GEO, has been contracted by the Victorian Government for 25 years to provide correctional services for up to 1300 men at a total cost of approximately $2.5 billion or $100 million every year, until 2042.
As the median age of adult prisoners is 34 years, this means that the young men who will fill this prison for the last few years of the contract are currently around 8 - 10 years old and at primary school. Some of them are running into trouble right about now.
Is our community really unable to provide interventions for these kids that would block their pathway towards incarceration?
We've just made a $2.5 billion dollar bet that we can't.
It is currently a political winner to be 'tough on crime' rather than 'strong on prevention'. Record numbers of people (currently 6,500) are in our state prisons, for longer periods, with fewer support programs in place. They have minimal if any supervision when they leave. 93% of them are men. Even if they are housed in the most enlightened of facilities, they will inevitably leave with a prison record, and all the negative sequelae of incarceration - both physical and psychological. Many will remain unemployed, marginalised and welfare dependent for months or years.Read more