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News (Media Awareness Project) - Australia: OPED: War To End War On Drugs Gains Allies On Right
Title:Australia: OPED: War To End War On Drugs Gains Allies On Right
Published On:2011-07-17
Source:Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Fetched On:2011-07-17 06:02:23
WAR TO END WAR ON DRUGS GAINS ALLIES ON RIGHT FLANK

Conservatives Are Starting to Adopt a More Liberal Stance on The
Narcotics Campaign.

IN 2011, the war to end the war on drugs is now being led by
conservative voices, not radical ones. In March, three federal Liberal
backbenchers - Mal Washer, Judi Moylan, and the Victorian Russell
Broadbent - came out against the criminal status of drug use, going so
far as to argue that heroin and cocaine should be legalised. Dr Washer
described the war on drugs as a "crime against humanity".

Indeed, those Liberals have been more vocal than the apparently
radical Greens, who abandoned their support for drug decriminalisation
after they found it brought more controversy than was
comfortable.

And the backbenchers join a global phenomenon - conservative voices
coming out against the drug war.
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Last month the Global Commission on Drug Policy concluded that drug
prohibition has been an abject failure. The panel includes Sir Richard
Branson and Nobel laureate in literature Mario Vargas Llosa. Both hold
right-of-centre economic views.

Two commission members, one a former US Secretary of State, the other
a Federal Reserve chairman, had their argument featured on the
conservative Wall Street Journal opinion page.

Little has changed in a practical sense, only that the pointlessness
of the approach to drugs has become even more obvious over time.

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have admitted using marijuana when they
were young. So have Malcolm Turnbull, Wayne Swan and Peter Garrett.

This would all be harmless fun but for one thing. Last financial year,
according to the Australian Crime Commission, 57,170 people were
arrested in Australia on marijuana-related charges - a drug that
Australia's most senior politicians happily admit to having used.

Their confessions are typically made with a sheepish grin, followed
quickly by a stern parental admonition - "It was a mistake to do so,"
said Malcolm Turnbull. Julia Gillard: "Tried it, didn't like it. I
think many Australian adults would be able to make the same statement,
so I don't think it matters one way or the other."

Well, it would matter if you were one of the almost 60,000 Australians
arrested for holding, consuming, or supplying cannabis to aspiring
politicians last year.

In Australia, marijuana is treated with a degree of leniency, at least
compared to other drugs.

Nevertheless, Australian police made more drug-related arrests last
year than at any time in the past decade. And about 20 per cent of
Australians report having used an illegal drug. These are not the
typical indications of policy triumph.

Outright prohibition has been no more a success at reducing the harm
caused by drug use in the 21st century than alcohol prohibition was in
the 20th.

Melbourne's cycle of gang warfare has been fuelled by the illegal
industries that have grown up around prohibition. In 2001, Portugal
decriminalised everything from marijuana to heroin. Drug trafficking
remained a crime, but possession and use became nothing more than
administrative violations. Providing drugs to minors remained illegal,
as did providing drugs to people with a mental illness.

According to a study by the Cato Institute, an American free-market
think tank, the results of this experiment have been positive. Drug
use didn't go up, contrary to the nightmare scenarios predicted -
particularly among 13 to 18-year-olds.

This is unsurprising. As a product comes out of the illegal
underground, it is easier to regulate, control and manage. Cato found
that almost every single measure of progress - HIV rates, drug-related
mortality - had gone down since 2001.

Obviously decriminalisation is very different from full legalisation.
The latter would be an understanding that individuals had the right to
ingest whatever they liked. The former balances the criminal and the
individual responsibility approaches.

Portugal chose to decriminalise because they didn't intend to
normalise or encourage drug use. And none of the conservative voices
who have joined the chorus against the drug war are pro-drugs.

But Portugal's strategic retreat has done more good in its 10 short
years than 30 years of criminalisation. The United States, which has
the harshest penalties for drug possession, also has the highest
levels of cannabis and cocaine consumption.

Portugal's model is one Australia could - and should -
adopt.

Unfortunately, governments get easy political mileage out of looking
tough on drugs. Ted Baillieu wants to crack down on the sale of the
bongs - an entirely symbolic gesture - but one that apparently
resonates with a certain type of voter.

And social reform can take a long time. One of the intellectual heroes
of the free-market movement, Milton Friedman, called for an end to the
war on drugs way back in 1972.

Yet conservative scepticism about the criminal approach to drug use is
spreading.

If both sides of politics are starting to doubt the wisdom of the drug
war, there's a chance - a chance - we may eventually take Portugal's
lead and call a ceasefire.
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