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Australian Policy on Illicit Drugs Second Report.
In June 2011 a prestigious Global Commission Drug Policy that included the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan and a number of former heads of state and experts on drug policy stated that the 40 year “War on Drugs” has failed with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.
The commission urged all countries to examine this important policy issue anew.
Accordingly, in September 2011 Australia 21 appointed a steering group that included a number of Australian experts on illicit drug policy. Their task was to work towards an Australian review of the policy of prohibition instigated in 1953, which would also explore what might be involved in moving to a different approach to illicit drugs in Australia.
The group recommended a high level exploratory roundtable on the topic “What are the likely costs and benefits of a change in Australia’ s current policy on illicit drugs?”.
In preparation for the roundtable, social researcher, David McDonald was commissioned to prepare a discussion paper (download here) which defined common terms used in drug discussions and considered the following questions.
1. What are the core concepts relating to societal management of drug use?
2. What are the main sources of drug-related harm in Australia?
3. What is Australia's current policy stance on drugs?
4. What forces have shaped Australian drug policy to date?
5. What core challenges does Australia face today with respect to drug policy?
6. Why is now the right time to consider alternatives to prohibition?
7. What is the international community saying about alternatives to prohibition?
8. What alternatives to prohibition have been adopted elsewhere with what outcomes?
9. Can society signal its disapproval of the use of particular drugs without recourse to the criminal justice system?
10. What are the implications of Australia's treaty obligations for domestic drug policy?
11. What are the key arguments supporting changes to Australians prohibition policy?
12. What are the key arguments supporting maintaining the current policy settings?
13. How is the international community likely to respond to Australia pursuing alternatives to the current policy of prohibition?
14. What drug policy options could be considered as alternatives to total prohibition?
The one day roundtable discussion that was hosted by the University of Sydney on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 included 24 former senior state and federal politicians, experts in drug policy and public health, young people, a leading businessman, legal and former law enforcement officers.
The report on this discussion was launched on Tuesday, 3 April at a press conference in Parliament House Canberra. It received widespread press coverage, and stimulaled a great deal of debate in the mainstream media.
Our Second Report on Illicit Drugs was launched by Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, on Sunday 9 September, at the Adelaide Convention Centre, on the eve of the 2012 Population Health Congress. The Report focuses on what Australia can learn from the experiences of three countries (Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands) which have liberalised their drug regimes in some way, and one country (Sweden) which has followed a strict law enforcement policy.
An edited version of Dr Horton's remarks at the launch was published on the opionion page of the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday 10 September - access it here.
Below is an extract from the Senate Hansard for Tuesday 12 September:
Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (16:28): I move:
That the Senate ?
(a) notes the report titled Alternatives to Prohibition ? Illicit Drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, released by Australia21 on 9 September 2012; and
(b) acknowledges that evidence-based approaches are needed in minimising the harms of drug use and appreciates the work Australia21 is doing to inform the debate on this important issue.
Question agreed to.
This represents important progress. The motion was carried on the voices, which means that none of the major parties opposed it, so now we have on the record a Senate motion supporting evidence based approaches to harm minimisation, and an acknowledgement that we are making a constructive contribution to public understanding of the issue.