Tag Archives: legalization

Drug reform around the world: part two

Supporters of legalization of cannabis in Montevideo march toward the Legislative Palace in May as part of the 2012 Global Marijuana March.

Protestors in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, campaign for marijuana legalisation. Copyright Miguel Rojo/AFP/Getty Images

Following the lead of Portugal’s progressive stance on drugs is Uruguay, whose president José Mujica announced in the middle of this year that he plans to make marijuana production and selling a state-run industry. Cannabis has always been legal to smoke in Uruguay but the country’s Congress is now deliberating a bill which would make weed a public commodity. If accomplished, Uruguay would be the first country to do so, and would redirect the huge amount of money cannabis users give to the black market into public hands. How much money you ask? Approximately $750 million[1]. This money would not only fund treatment programs and clinics for addicts, but think of how many better roads, teachers and hospitals could be created with the additional money left over.

Not only will this bill, if passed, improve government revenue but it will also reduce violent crime, a trend South America is all too well-known for. Making illicit drugs a public commodity means users will no longer have to liaise with criminals, while narcotrafficking and gang-related violence will also decrease since the drug is available on a communal basis. The bill proposes a plan in which marijuana cigarettes would be available to people 18 years and older, and who would only be allowed to buy a certain amount of cannabis each month.

Another country administering a more sensible drug apparatus is Spain, whose ‘cannabis clubs’ are a slightly different system to that of Uruguay’s proposal. These Spanish clubs grow and sell weed to their own members, some of whom require cannabis for medicinal purposes, and others who simply enjoy getting high. Each member pays an annual fee as well as for each individual purchase, which is usually around half the typical street value, and each member can purchase up to 60 grams a month.

Spain has been in fact leading the way on drug reform for a number of decades: in the 70s their Supreme court ruled that, while trafficking was a crime, possession was not. The main focus was discouraging purchasing cannabis with the intention to make a profit. About ten years ago a Spanish court went even further, declaring that even possession of large quantities of cannabis was not illegal, so long as there was still no clear intention of trafficking. Since then the number of ‘cannabis clubs’ has multiplied astronomically, to the point where there are now there are over 300 around Spain.

It is systems like Spain and Uruguay’s, where there is no privatisation and no hulking corporations  looking to cut corners on production quality, where decriminalisation works. One of the Spanish clubs actually estimates that, if implemented on a wide scale, the ‘clubs’ could create 30,000 new jobs in Spain[2], at a time when the country is in desperate economic straits.

So which system would you prefer, Spain or Uruguay’s? Do you think it would work in your home town? Let us know in the comments below.

In the next blog we discuss countries with strict conservative stances against drugs: the US and Mexico.

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Drug reform around the world: part one

As Australia continues its intransigence towards cannabis law reform, other countries are taking the lead and instigating decriminalisation measures with positive effects. The most obvious example of this is Portugal, who in 2001 decriminalised all illicit drugs. According to the British Journal of Criminology, in the decade since, teen drug use has decreased and HIV/AIDS-related deaths are on the decline. Adult drug use did increase, but not to the extent that it did in surrounding countries during the same time.

Alex Stevens, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent, who co-wrote the British Criminology report, emphasised the beneficial impact decriminalisation had on the state’s financial and judiciary resources, “They saved themselves a lot of money and stopped inflicting so much harm on people through the criminal justice system.” This is possibly the most pertinent point when it comes to the advantages of cannabis reform: the amount of money saved by the state and the taxpayer. Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nick Cowdery flagged this over ten years ago, stating in 2001 that prosecuting drug crime was “…costing time, it’s costing money, it’s costing lives, it’s achieving nothing other than creating more crime, which I then have to prosecute.”[1] Earlier this year he called for the complete legalisation of illicit drugs[2], switching the state’s role from punishing users to administering the country’s supply, in which case the revenue created would go into initiating drug support programs and addiction clinics. This is a point Stevens brings up in his report, “Releasing funds [from enforcement] allows you to spend more on treatment.”

Under Portugal’s decriminalised system, an offender does not face a criminal court but a small committee, made up of a medical expert, a lawyer and a social worker. They will not send you to jail but advise you on a treatment schedule or a support regime within the community depending on the circumstance of your offence, mainly whether you are an addict or not. Many who are deemed not to be addicted will often be released without penalty while addicts will often incur penalties such as losing one’s drivers license. Many people believed that the decriminalisation by Portugal would draw an inordinate amount of vagrants and party-seekers to the country, but this has not happened.

So how does that sound? Instead of having a permanent mark next to your name for smoking some weed on a Friday or Saturday night, Portugal’s system actually takes a realistic approach to cannabis use: that, when used appropriately, it isn’t going to kill you or do you significant harm. In the case of addicts, they are prescribed proper treatment or rehabilitation. I think all of us would agree that cannabis addiction is not a good thing – it can easily waste a young mind when used excessively. Yet Portugal has a system that targets addiction, hoping to rid it from the user. Doesn’t this sound like the kind of just system Australia should employ?

In the next blog post we will discuss two more countries with a progressive stance on illicit drugs: Uruguay and Spain.

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Is Australia’s drug policy archaic?

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.

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Decriminalisation does not equal greater use among young people

Opponents of cannabis decriminalisation often use the argument that, if decriminalised, cannabis will become more readily available among teenagers. This has been one of the most successful points for those against drug law reform through scaring parents into believing that, if cannabis is decriminalised, their child will obtain cannabis on a regular basis and lose focus on their education. Yet a recent study from the US has proven that a softer stance on cannabis has no significant effect on the proportion of use of among young people. Researchers from the University of Oregon and Montana State University have found that between the years of 1993 and 2009, the 13 US states that legalised medical marijuana, including California, Alaska and Washington, found that after legalisation was introduced, there was no increase in marijuana use or the likelihood of being offered marijuana among kids at school.

The recent Australia21 study into cannabis use proposed a legal age of 16 to buy cannabis, which I am inclined to agree with. The fact is more than one in ten young people (12-17 year olds) already admit to having used marijuana at least once in their life (2010 National Drug Survey Household Report). Conservative thinkers like to scare parents into believing their child will become dazed, unfocused layabouts if decriminalisation is passed. This is wrong. The greater majority of those who access decriminalised marijuana will be those who already have an affiliation with the drug, and professional pharmaceutical advice will more than likely be reduced to an amount which still allows them to focus thoroughly on their studies. Or we could stay in the current system where our children have their futures ruined from a criminal conviction from a harmless activity. Cannabis is not Criminal.

Here’s a link to the study: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-06/uocd-ssn061812.php

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What if this man had been criminally charged?

The most powerful man in the world, US President Barack Obama freely admitted during the 2008 election campaign that he inhaled, frequently, as a child. If he had been caught and criminally charged, he would not be President, it is as simple as that. The video below shows Obama talking about his recreational drug use as a young adult (skip to 0:57).  Do you think Barack Obama is a criminal? Does his teenage curiosity reflect his greater worth as a person? Leave your opinion below in the comments!

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