The term war on drugs is so much more palatable than the truth; that the "war on drugs" is actually a war on people. A war on people who use drugs and their families and communities, the poor and disadvantaged, indigenous and ethnic minorities, women and children.
After five decades of prohibitionist propaganda and deliberate misinformation the public is finally learning the truth about Cannabis prohibition. Longstanding negative beliefs about drugs such as Cannabis have become so pervasive and entrenched within our society that most people forget the reason why cannabis was made illegal in the first place.
In the 1960s, drugs such as cannabis became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent which the US government was desperate to control. Declaring war on certain drugs allowed the US administration to wage war on those communities that used those particular drugs.
In June 1971, U.S President Nixon declared his "war on drugs," claiming drug use as "public enemy number one in the United States". Subsequently, stigma around drugs became normalised and people who use drugs are seen as less worthy of protections and rights under the law.
Like any civil rights abuse the human right to bodily sovereignty was easy to destroy and nearly impossible to reclaim.
What followed was nearly 50 years of unprecedented human rights abuses perpetrated by Governments all around the world on their own citizens that continues to this day with the CIA and the US establishment using the fear of drugs to persecute and fund secret wars.
In 2015, John Ehrlichman a former Senior Adviser to Nixon publically admitted that the war on drugs was a tool designed for the US administration to use on "the anti-war Left and the Blacks". Prohibition was never about keeping the people safe but was created and used as a powerful political tool by the US administration to manipulate racism and fear within communities.
The time for action on Cannabis law reform is now.
Drug Law Reform Australia knows that to reduce the harms associated with illegal cannabis use in Australia we need a bold new regulatory approach that covers the production, sale and use of all currently illegal cannabis and cannabis products.
In the US states such as Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska all have full legal access to medical and recreational cannabis. Many other US states have decriminalised cannabis laws. Internationally countries like Uruguay and Portugal have fully regulated and legal cannabis markets.
Change is possible but where do we start?
At Drug Law Reform we know that there is still a lot of misinformation and confusion about cannabis out there in the Australian community and therefore progress on cannabis legalisation is slow.
However there is scientific and social consensus on these three undeniable facts.
Prohibition of cannabis has failed
. Drug statistics from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (2013) found that 34.8% of Australians had used cannabis in their lifetime. Under Australia's drug laws over 8 million Aussies, almost a third of the population have broken the law by not saying "no to drugs".
Prohibition is costing Australians too much.
Each year 66,684 Aussies get arrested for cannabis - that's almost enough Aussies to fill the MCG and Australian drug law enforcement activities cost taxpayers between $1.3 - 1.7 billion annually. There is no way of quantifying the true financial and social impact and costs to families and the community in general.
Doing more of the same is not the answer.
Despite fifty years of cannabis prohibition, cannabis is still the most commonly used illegal drug in Australia. At the current rate to "successfully win" the war on drugs the Australian Government would need to increase taxes or cut back public services to increase law enforcement spending to over 10 billion dollars a year and increase law enforcement numbers and hours tenfold, to fill eighty-eight MSGs full to capacity with a third of the population. That to us is what insanity looks like.
Good laws are ones that are easy to follow because they are based on community values.
If 1 out of every 3 Aussies are breaking the drug laws it reflects poor Governmental policy and law making. Our Politicians are elected to represent the people not to dictate some unrealistic moral ideal and criminalise them.
Drug Law Reform Australia knows there is a better way, it's time to end the war and to make our society safer by taking a new regulatory approach to replace cannabis prohibition.
Australia does not need to create an entirely new legal framework to regulate illegal drugs, nor do we need to reinvent the wheel or get caught up in unnecessary red tape or endless research trials. When our young people are being criminalised and others even dying, we simply do not have the luxury of time to keep procrastinating whilst trying to magic drugs away.
The fact is – Cannabis is here to stay.
Australia knows how to regulate drugs. We currently regulate all kind of drugs from recreational use of coffee, nicotine and alcohol, to pharmaceutical drugs such as Viagra and Adderall and various other forms of amphetamine for medicinal use.
The argument for an immediate amnesty on medical or therapeutic cannabis.
Chinese medicine has relied on cannabis and hemp extracts for thousands of years. According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency Museum: "The oldest known written record on cannabis use comes from the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2727 B.C.
Despite all the anti-cannabis propaganda there are currently over 600 globally enforceable cannabis patents held by the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization database (Patentscope) from 186 member states. Indeed, the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived chemicals to fight a wide range of cancers has long been suggested by pre-clinical research as well as anecdotal reports.
In the US as of March 2016, there were 493 US patent application publications with cannabis in the claims, 513 with THC, 332 with tetrahydrocannabinol, and 1136 with cannabinoid.
So there is no denying that, with over 113 active chemical compounds known as cannabinoids - cannabis has therapeutic qualities.
Why is the Government still persecuting people for using medicinal cannabis?
Tragically the Australian Government is still denying people the right to use of cannabis and withholding potentially lifesaving medication for political reasons. Meanwhile the pharmaceutical companies are scrambling over themselves to ensure their product will be tested and market ready for when medicinal cannabis prohibition ends. That is not OK. Whatever happened to the "fair go"?
Drug Law Reform Australia calls on the Government for an immediate amnesty on medical and recreational marijuana users and further to set up a Royal Commission to look into the financial and social costs of Prohibition to Australian families and society.
At Drug Law Reform Australia we are concerned about the lack of effective regulation regarding the use of some psychoactive substances and believe that the outright prohibition of some drugs is counterproductive and actually exacerbates the problem.
A successful drug regulation model will be one framed first and foremost on human rights and informed by the latest peer reviewed and evidence-based science and drug research. And will consider the outcomes from other jurisdictions that have implemented varied models based on decriminalisation or legalisation, including New Zealand, Portugal, Switzerland and Colorado, Ithaca and Washington in America.
The main psychoactive substance in Cannabis, is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) which creates the euphoric effect, but the other main cannabinoids are CBD and CCB which does not create the sensation but has medical applications.
In the case of synthetic and untested analogues, Drug Law Reform Australia agrees that as an ever evolving product synthetics have the potential for more harm that existing drugs.
We believe the NZ legislative model holds great hope as a way to regulate the sale of psychoactive substances once they have undergone extensive safety testing.
Prohibition has increased drug-related harm
Various UN organizations have observed, that Prohibition of drugs has brought harmful collateral consequences. In Australia they include:
- Creation of a multi-billion dollar drug market controlled by criminal gangs and drug cartels
- Undermines law and order and fuels corruption
- Negatively impacts on public health
- Increases the risk of overdose and drives HIV and Hep C
- Generating large-scale human rights abuses, including disproportionate and inhumane punishments
- Higher rates of incarceration for indigenous and young people
- Discrimination and marginalization of people who use drugs
- Impacting most on indigenous peoples, women, and youth.
Australian Cannabis Statistics from 2013
34.8% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cannabis one or more times in their life.
10.2% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cannabis in the previous 12 months.
Young Australians (aged 14–24) first try cannabis at 16.7 years on average.
Costs of Prohibition:
The research team at the Drug Policy Modelling Program at the University of New South Wales estimated that Australian drug law enforcement activities cost taxpayers between $1.3 - 1.7 billion annually. This included police services, judicial resources, legal expenses, and corrective services, including the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (now the Australian Border Force).
However this is only the financial cost, the true costs of Prohibition are unknown. Can we really determine the cost and impact to a family whose father is incarcerated for drugs or to those who has been forced to watch as they lose their child as she relapses into epileptic seizures?
Alternatives to Prohibition.
Drug Law Reform Australia proposes a transitioned approach over 4 stages to allow time for assessment, adjustment and further monitoring.
1 ) Immediate Amnesty on cannabis and medical marijuana
- The personal possession and medicinal use of cannabis to be decriminalized.
- All monies saved and police man power shall be funnelled into solving a backlog of criminal cases.
- The growth of outdoor cannabis "home-grown" without lights or chemicals for personal consumption to be decriminalised.
- The growth of hydroponic cannabis, (manufactured using indoor lights and chemicals) for sale would be subject to regulation and growers licensed and monitored.
- Medicinal grade cannabis would be manufactured under licence and regulated under the strictest conditions to ensure quality control.
- Medicinal grade cannabis should be supplied to those who require it upon a Doctors script. This includes individuals suffering from epilepsy and any other illnesses/conditions that respond well to cannabis treatment.
- The Roadside Drug Testing shall cease immediately and all monies saved be funnelled into road safety and infrastructure.
- The personal use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamine should be decriminalised as a temporary measure until stage three commences.
- The only exception should be those "synthetic forms of cannabis" currently being sold on the market as 'legal'. These synthetics are highly toxic substitutes that need immediate attention.
- Pill testing kits should be made available at all festivals and over the counter from adult only venues (nightclubs, pubs, adult shops).
- Increase in the level of support and funding for people seeking assistance through the health system and emphasizing health and harm prevention.
- Increased funding to medically supervise injecting facilities to reduce the risk of accidental overdose.
- Increased funding for the provision of Naloxone to treat opioid overdose.
2 ) Evaluation phase
- Stage two shall comprise of a 3 month testing and evaluation period during which the Government should fund independent analysis and assessment of the impact, cost savings and benefits of these measures.
3 ) Initial roll out
- Cannabis to be sold in plain packaging at cigarette shops or in adult only venues such as nightclubs. Photo ID at point of sale would be required.
- To protect minors from advertising or promotion - no advertising other than the plain packaging and minimal point of sale advertising would be allowed.
- A pharmaceutical grade version of Ecstasy(MDMA) should be manufactured and sold in adult only venues with Photo ID required at point of sale as a "controlled substance".
- Pharmaceutical grade amphetamines should be available to adults via a Doctors script and be sold in pharmacies in varied incremental doses as a controlled substance.
- All controlled substance products will be pharmaceutical grade and manufactured by the Government/contractors and will list on the plain packaging the ingredients, dosage requirements and contraindications and links to treatment.
- Plain Packaging and point of sale to be the only advertising allowed.
- All Australian parliamentarians should be allowed a conscience vote on drug policy, which will allow evidence-based policy initiatives to be developed, tested and implemented.
4 ) Final Roll out and expansion phase
- A new regulatory approach will be determined for the production and sale of various types of drugs, along the lines of what is being introduced in other jurisdictions including New Zealand, Portugal, Switzerland and Colorado and Washington in America.
- The Government will maintain strict regulatory guidelines over advertising, quality controls and licensing and transition out of the manufacturing side of production.
- All private companies including pharmaceutical companies, drug manufacturers or growers must comply with these strict regulations or risk a suspension or lose of their licenses and/or fines.
- To protect minors - anyone selling or providing minors with controlled substances will face hefty fines and/or incarceration.
- Controlled substances will not be consumed in public spaces or family arenas but will be available to adults in adult only venues.