On May 10th this year Intelligence Squared – the forum for live debate – hosted All Drugs Should Be Legalised in Sydney Australia.
You can watch the video alone here, or check out the audio here. They note on their website.
In most cases, prohibition has failed to curb demand and the provision of illicit drugs has become the lucrative trade of organised crime – with the associated ills of corruption, violence and health risks.
Some people urge tighter restrictions on all recreational drugs as the cure for social ills linked to their use and abuse. Others argue that all drugs should be legal – subject only to prudent regulation.
Below are the pre and post debate audience figures for All drugs should be legalised.
Well prior to this debate, I was struck (to put it mildly) at the makeup of the negative team. Decorated veterans from The Enemies of Reason army, I felt more disappointment than the outrage I expected would engulf me. It was clear those bastions of moral evangelism and anti-drug hysteria, Drug Free Australia had quite likely been called upon to muster a good riposte to the ever expanding evidence supporting a change in policy. Like calling upon conspiracy theorist and anti-vaccination lobbyist Meryl Dorey of the AVN for “balance” one can rest assured DFA, enamored with pseudoscience, could fill the anti-drug niche. For “balance” if you like.
My next post will be my own biography of the negative team. These guys have a lot in common and I feel it’s only just to point out the “incestuous” relationship that manifests as informed opinion, but is in fact a superstitious, narrow and morality based attack on secular Australia, progressive policy, free thought, free choice, human rights and individuality. Yet my disappointment in “releasing the hounds”, so to speak stems from the fact I myself can argue against legalisation for reasons never mentioned here. Yet they tend to be reasons on variations of legality and access. Or concerns over black markets. Or solutions proffered by other pro legalisation movements. Australia is unique. Great arguments come from Norm Stamper and his colleagues at LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. But we don’t have shoot outs in suburban streets and thankfully, haven’t tortured and jailed our civilians at the rate the USA has. We already have Harm Reduction – we just need more. Period.
The negative team is:
Jade Lewis is a former drug addict who now campaigns and educates against use of illegal drugs. As a young teenager she was a champion junior athlete who competed internationally, and won the WA Doug Hancy Award, Athlete of the Year and Junior Sportswoman of the Year. Her records remain unbeaten in Western Australia. Her later heroin addiction, criminal behaviour and volatile relationships are recorded in her book, Golden Haze. She now educates at schools on positive relationships and runs a program for women prisoners.
Dr Greg Pike is the Director of the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Adelaide, South Australia where he focuses primarily on the influence of bioethics on public policy development. He trained as a physiologist with a PhD in muscle electrophysiology, becoming Hospital Research Scientist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in the Department of Surgery. He is the Chairman of the Board of the Australian Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Program and a member of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, has served as a Deputy Member on the SA Council on Reproductive Technology and was a member of the Australian Health Ethics Committee for the 2006-09 triennium.
Paul Sheehan is one of the most thought-provoking commentators in Australia today. A columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, Sheehan is a prominent writer and has written on the bigger debate about the politics of cultural diversity in contemporary Australia. He is one of Australia’s best-selling authors with three best-selling books including, most recently, the number-one best-seller, Girls Like You.
The positive team is:
Nicholas Cowdery AM QC BA LLB was the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions running the largest prosecuting agency in Australia from 1994 to 2011. He became a Barrister in 1971 and was Public Defender in Papua New Guinea for four years. As a Barrister in private practice in Sydney, he specialised in criminal law appearing in many high profile cases including the prosecutions of the late Justice Lionel Murphy (of the High Court of Australia) and of the late Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen (former Premier of the State of Queensland). He is a member of the NSW Sentencing Council and the Advisory Committee, Sydney Institute of Criminology and the National Advisory Committee, Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, University of Wollongong. He is the author of Getting Justice Wrong: myths, media and crime.
Wendy Harmer is a prominent Australian broadcaster, entertainer and veteran of countless international comedy festivals. She has presented top-rating morning radio and has hosted, written and appeared in a wide variety of TV shows including ABC’s Big Gig and In Harmer’s Way. Harmer is the author of several books for adults, two plays and a series of children’s books. She has also hosted the television Logie Awards and has been a regular newspaper and magazine contributor.
Dr Alex Wodak AM is a physician and has been Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent’s Hospital since 1982. His major interests include prevention of HIV among injecting drug users, treatment of drug users and drug policy reform. Dr Wodak is President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and was President of the International Harm Reduction Association (1996-2004). He helped establish the first needle syringe program (1986) and the first medically supervised injecting centre (1999) in Australia when both were pre-legal. Dr Wodak helped establish the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (1987) and the Australian needle syringe program annual survey (1995).
It’s clear drug law reform has manifest merit. This by no means suggests a simple reverse of policy or free for all is justified. Managing existing problems through evidence based approaches is the avenue needed. This is not the “handouts to children’ moral panic we’re often misled with. Whilst it’s true alcohol is far more damaging to individuals and society – something we ignore handing out ever more lenient licences – I don’t think the “my buzz vs your buzz” argument applies here, either. Prohibition is an abysmal failure to be sure. Indeed the sole cause of illicit drug induced tragedy. However because this can be demonstrated in a crisp top down, if not straight linear fashion doesn’t assuaged the reality that reversing this insult to our species is a complicated bottom up process that will have set backs, loud opposition and unforeseen hurdles and successes. Fortunately other nations have taken the step. Portugal is finding great success after a decade and now Poland is moving toward legalisation.
Today we struggle with drugs unheard of when this open door to profit was gifted to organised crime. Not only is there fantasy, ecstasy, mephadrone and a repulsive mix in between of these amphetamine type stimulants, but so much profit ensues that clandestine production is the norm. This has given us crystal methamphetamine and hydroponic cannabis. Our media and politicians score an E and an F for Epic Failure and in the main deserve our disgust and derision. That newspapers can be sold with articles gloating over and baying for blood for problems they themselves have in no small way contributed to beggars belief. That elected politicians pander to Christian Lobbies or their own retarded opinions, rather than serve the community that placed them in office is undemocratic.
Along the way, police have fallen to corruption and far, far worse. Prominent informers in cases of police involvement in production, selling and underworld murders have themselves been murdered. Far from a case of “they deserved it”, as crown witnesses under police and custodial maximal protection their deaths signify an attack on the very heart of our justice system. As I write the head of Barwon prison, David Prideaux is missing on a hunting trip in the Victorian Alps. This report came in a few minutes ago.
I can confirm Prideaux is a high profile witness in the murder of Carl Williams who was bashed to death in the most secure section of the most secure jail in the state whilst under 24 hour watch. Williams in turn was preparing to give evidence into the murder of informant Terry Hodgson. Hodgson was preparing to give information into the theft of pseudo-ephedrine allegedly by himself and Drug Squad officer Paul Dale. In the case of the two informers, police had leaked documents to underworld figures outlining their intentions. Hodgson was under police guard in a safe house, with all security details – alarms, lights, locks etc, known only to police. Investigations showed he and his wife were shot in the back of the head, kneeling, after letting someone in to the safe house.
One of the greatest moral, social and human rights based questions today is: Should illicit drugs be legalised? I’ve only touched on a fraction of corruption above. Corruption is only one issue, and one we place well behind the welfare of family, friends and community. Legalisation doesn’t mean “over the counter”. It most certainly doesn’t mean greater availability of drugs. It means strict regulation, health service acquisition, ongoing support and control of users lives taken from criminals. Safe injecting facilities, heroin on prescription, needle syringe programmes and maintenance therapy already save lives, protect the community and channel hard core users into counselling and therapy. It’s pretty safe that if availed of all evidence most parents would want their child – if dependent or merely reckless – dosed by a health professional and not by Butch and Macca at the local bus stop.
But for now, one does well to listen to any debate on this topic. At least we’re having this debate and seeing it promoted at serious forums such as ABC’s Big Ideas is a welcome addition.
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Recently my inbox has been peppered with emails from the Executive Officer of Drug Free Australia, dredging up attacks on a recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, that just recently called for an end to the drug war. Press release here. 380KB Report here. There is audio for download here and a CNN news item below.
It seems for now, the enemies of reason will continue to deny the evidence, regardless of the cost.
End War On Drugs, Try Legalisation: Global Commission On Drug Policy
Opiate use up 34.5%, cocaine use up 27%, cannabis use up 8.5% [UN data]. The Global Commission on Drug Policy stresses the Drug War has failed and suggests legalisation and increased focus on health.
End criminalisation, stigmatisation and marginalisation of drug users who do no harm to others. Experiment with legalisation models.
Clearly after 50 years of UN policy and 40 years of “war” this debacle must be overhauled.
See USA’s successful covert design to lobby and prevent “harm reduction” being phrased in member state submissions to last UN drug policy review at Wikileaks: