Many countries around the world are advocating either the decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis, whereas Australia, like many Western countries, are refusing any sort of reform, thanks mainly to a misplaced sense of moral superiority. Earlier this year Julia Gillard stated that “drugs kill people, they rip families apart, they destroy lives and we want to see less harm done through drug usage”, yet if only she looked to other states, to other governments that have employed a rational perspective on drug decriminalisation, she would see that she is only creating more harm through her unjustified prohibition.
So first let’s take a look at Australia’s current system: parts of Australia, specifically the ACT, South Australia and the Northern Territory have introduced light fines for possessing small amounts of cannabis, while in Western Australia the punishments are still civil yet much harsher. New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland all still categorize cannabis possession as a criminal offence, while focusing on diversion and education programs for first and second-time offenders. Specifically, New South Wales has the ‘Cannabis Cautioning System’, introduced in 2000, in which an individual can be given two separate cautions by police if they are caught in possession of under 15g of cannabis, with any further offences resulting in criminal action. Yet this ‘cautioning’ system is misleading due to the fact that it is completely up to the discretion of the police officer as to whether to caution or not: if the police officer deems it necessary to criminally charge a first-time offender, he/she can do that.
These criminal measures are a part of a prohibition system which has plainly and utterly failed. Yet this is not coming from just this blog, this is coming from respected, prominent members of the Australian and global community. The Global Commission on Drug Policy in 2011 stated that “the war on drugs has failed”, and earlier this month the non-profit thinktank Australia21 released the final piece of their two-part report on Australia’s failing drug policies, deriding the current heavy-handed system, stating:
“…As much as we may deplore it, we must learn to live in a world where some young people use drugs. All drug use is not inherently evil. We would be off keeping the focus on reducing the harm caused by drugs and drug policy.”
‘Alternatives to Prohibition: Illicit drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians’, page 31
This is coming from a group that included former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer, Foreign Minister Bob Car, former Director of NSW Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, and more. All of these individuals have hands-on experience with the social impact of criminalised drug use, how it targets the youth, wastes taxpayers money and refuels the drug abuse cycle.
The report by the Australia21 organisation recommends a new system: decriminalisation of cannabis to anyone over 16 who is willing to be on a national, confidential user’s register, with the drug to be available in selected amounts from a state-approved supplier. Not only would this increase government revenue but it would also derail dangerous criminal behaviour that the current criminal system encourages from addicts. In the next blog we will discuss progressive movements by other countries who have taken steps to decriminalise and legalise cannabis, such as Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay, and how Australia can learn off the undoubted successes these policies have been.