Australian Drug Law Reform News

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World leaders call for end to “Disastrous” Drug War in letter to UN

“Humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s,” letter says.

Signatories include Former Presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Switzerland & Poland; Former Prime Ministers of Greece, Hungary & The Netherlands, Distinguished Scholars, Jurists, Clergy, Business Leaders, Elected Officials, Celebrities and Others.


Insights – Sax Institute

The President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Dr Alex Wodak was recently interviewed by the Sax Institute about drug prohibition and drug law reform.

The Sax Institute is a national leader in promoting the use of research evidence in health policy.

The video was made for Web CIPHER – a website for health decision makers and those interested in evidence informed policy.

The good politics of bad drug policy has brought about the rise of ice

Dr Alex Wodak in the Guardian:

Global drug prohibition evolved and peaked during the 20th century and is now declining. Many leaders now say that the “war on drugs” has failed. Worse than that it has encouraged more dangerous drugs to push out less dangerous drugs while acting like Viagra for politicians facing tough elections.


Bad drug policy has been good politics. But this has left Australia with a high prevalence of methamphetamine use and problems compared to many other countries.


Neuroscientist Carl Hart explains why: “Drugs Aren’t the Problem”

Click on through for a great discussion about drug addiction with renowned Neuroscientist Carl Hart:

Here is an excerpt:

DR. CARL HART: Well, I come from—as you said, I grew up in the hood. And so, when we think about these communities that we care about, the communities that have been so-called devastated by drugs of abuse, I believed that narrative for a long time. In fact, I’ve been studying drugs for about 23 years; for about 20 of those years, I believed that drugs were the problems in the community. But when I started to look more carefully, started looking at the evidence more carefully, it became clear to me that drugs weren’t the problem. The problem was poverty, drug policy, lack of jobs—a wide range of things. And drugs were just one sort of component that didn’t contribute as much as we had said they have.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the findings of these studies. I mean, you’ve been publishing in the most elite scientific journals now for many years.

DR. CARL HART: Yes. So, one of the things that shocked me when I first started to understand what was going on, when I discovered that 80 to 90 percent of the people who actually use drugs like crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana—80 to 90 percent of those people were not addicted. I thought, “Wait a second. I thought that once you use these drugs, everyone becomes addicted, and that’s why we had these problems.” That was one thing that I found out. Another thing that I found out is that if you provide alternatives to people—jobs, other sort of alternatives—they don’t overindulge in drugs like this. I discovered this in the human laboratory as well as the animal laboratory. The same thing plays out in the animal literature.

Drug policy

Another eventful few weeks in drug policy.

Perhaps the major international event last week was the New Zealand parliament passing (by 119 votes to 1) the Psychoactive Substances Bill

McLay’s opening remarks were:

I move, That the Psychoactive Substances Bill be now read a third time. It is my hope that today we take a very significant step to protect New Zealanders, particularly young New Zealanders, from the harm caused by untested drugs and an unregulated market. The Government’s position is clear, as I believe this House’s is. No one will be allowed to sell psychoactive products unless it can be shown that those products pose no more than a low risk of harm. Passing this bill will ensure that these products cannot be sold to children, that they cannot be sold from dairies, and that there are robust controls on what is in them and how they can be marketed.

These are exactly the arguments that drug law reformers have been making for years. McLay was right to argue that the critical issue is the presence of untested drugs in an unregulated market.

Another lesson from this event is that successful drug law reform usually requires bipartisan support.

NZ has a long and impressive history of international trail blazing to which can now be added starting to regulate the unregulated drug market


A Current Affair (Channel Nine) has a large audience. A recent edition focused on community protests about the location of a methadone clinic in Western Sydney.

But surely health services have to go somewhere? So too do police stations and fire stations. Few are ecstatic about living next door to any of these services. Would the neighbours prefer that the people now much more stable on Opioid Substitution Treatment were still just injecting street heroin? Would it make any difference to the critics if the person now much more stable on Opioid Substitution Treatment was a son or a daughter, a father or a mother, a brother or a sister of the person who wants the clinic moved?

Economics Behind the U.S. Government’s Unwinnable War on Drugs

A new article by Benjamin Powell explaining the economics of the drug war has appeared here.

The conclusions are listed below. People who read to the end will receive a free joke:

Drug prohibition, like US alcohol prohibition (1920-33), has failed abjectly. Prohibition cannot be transformed into an effective policy by a mere tweaking of current policy. This economic analysis emphasises that fighting a supply-side drug war ensures that drug suppliers’ revenues will soar, enabling drug traffickers to continue to expand and increase their efforts to supply drugs in response to greater enforcement. The result is a drug war with worsening outcomes and increasing cost and violence.

Furthermore, it is important to recognise the other inevitable consequences of prohibition which are also perverse. Prohibition encourages street drugs to become more potent and have less predictable purity than if these drugs were regulated. Thus people who use street drugs pay higher prices, are at greater risk and, and are more likely to commit crimes to pay the inflated prices for drugs.

Inevitably, relying on law enforcement to reduce the supply of drugs impairs health and increases violence. There are two paths alternatives: relying predominantly on demand measures or regulation of the market.

Regulation of drugs is more complete response to the problem of drugs. It is more respectful of individual liberty. Although consumption might increase, drug consumption would be less dangerous and accompanied by less violence. But drug education would probably be more effective in decreasing drug consumption and the severe unintended side effects of the current policy of prohibition would be avoided.

Q) How many prohibitionists does it take to change a light bulb?

A) None. Changing the bulb would be surrender. With enough effort and borrowed money we can make the old one work the way it’s supposed to.

Illicit Drug Data Report 2011–12

The Australian Crime Commission released its ‘Illicit Drug Data Report 2011–12’ on 20 May 2013.

The Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR) 2011–12 provides a snapshot of the Australian illicit drug market. The report brings together illicit drug data from a variety of sources, including law enforcement, health organisations and academia. The IDDR is the only report of its type in Australia and provides an important evidence base to assist decision-makers in the development of strategies to combat the threat posed by illicit drugs.

The Australian Crime Commission included the following among its key findings:

• ‘A record 23.8 tonnes of illicit drugs were seized nationally’.
• ‘The number of national illicit drug seizures and arrests are the highest reported in the last decade’.
• ‘Over the last decade, cannabis has remained the dominant illicit drug in Australia in terms of arrests, seizures and use’.

Amphetamine-Type Stimulants:

• ‘Both the number and weight of ATS (excluding MDMA) detections at the Australian border increased and are the highest reported in the last decade’.
• ‘The weight of national ATS seizures increased by 55.9 per cent’.
• ‘The number of national ATS arrests increased to 16 828 and is the highest reported in the last decade’.


• ‘There was a record 2 660 cannabis detections at the Australian border, with cannabis seeds continuing to account for the majority of detections’.
• ‘The number and weight of national cannabis seizures increased, with the number of seizures the highest reported in the last decade’.
• ‘The number of national cannabis arrests continued to increase and is the highest reported in the last decade’.


• ‘The weight of heroin detected at the Australian border decreased, but remains the third highest weight reported in the last decade’.
• ‘Profiling data from2011 indicates the majority of analysed heroin seizures at the Australian border originated in South-West Asia’.
• ‘The number of national heroin seizures increased and is the highest reported in the last decade’.
• ‘While the number of national heroin and other opioid related arrests increased, they remain low compared to those reported earlier in the decade’.


• ‘Both the number and weight of cocaine detections at the Australian border increased and are the highest reported in the last decade’.
• ‘Profiling data from2011 indicates an increase in the proportion of analysed cocaine border seizures with Peruvian leaf-origin’.
• ‘The weight of national cocaine seizures increased and is the highest reported in the last decade’.
• ‘The number of national cocaine arrests increased and is the second highest reported in the last decade’.

Other Drugs:

• ‘The number of performance and image enhancing drugs detected at the Australian border increased by 56.9 per cent and is the highest reported in the last decade’.
• ‘The number of hormones detected at the Australian border more than doubled and is the highest reported in the last decade’.
• ‘National steroid seizures and arrests increased and are the highest on record’.
• ‘The weight of national hallucinogen seizures increased over 50 per cent and is the highest on record’.
• ‘As a direct consequence of the 11 tonnes of hypophosphorous acid seized, the national seizure weight of other and unknown drugs is at a record high’.

Clandestine Laboratories And Precursors:

• ‘The weight of ATS (excluding MDMA) precursors detected at the border increased by 123.5 per cent’.

These results indicate the comprehensive failure of efforts to reduce the supply of illicit drugs in Australia by relying heavily on law enforcement. In 20011/12, the purity of ‘ice’ almost doubled. If drug prohibition is being successful, the purity of illicit drugs should be decreasing. In 2002/ 03, drug law enforcement received 75% of funds allocated by commonwealth, state and territory governments in response to illicit drugs. Clearly, drug law enforcement has minimal impact on the availability of illicit drugs. Many reputable observers argue that the problem of illicit drugs is fundamentally a demand rather than a supply problem. That is, it is more the case that demand creates a supply rather than supply creates a demand.

No doubt Australian drug law enforcement authorities do their best. These comments are not intended as a criticism of the commitment, skill or zeal of drug law enforcement authorities. The ADLRF wishes Australian drug law enforcement well in its futile endeavors. But Australian taxpayers are entitled to question the value they receive from the substantial government investment in customs, police, courts and prisons. In 2002/03, Australian governments spent $3.2 billion responding to illicit drugs so $2.4 billion was allocated to proactive and reactive law enforcement responses. No doubt these figures a decade later would have increased. It is hard enough to justify this expenditure with such a poor return at the best of times but even harder to do this when the budget is $19 billion in deficit and important programmes are being cut heavily. While gold bars rain down on drug law enforcement, health and social interventions receive limited funding. Methadone programmes achieve a saving of $4 to $7 for every $1 spent yet methadone and buprenorphine programmes are rationed. Needle syringe programmes save $4 in health care costs and $27 overall.

The Organisation of American States (OAS), which represents 33 governments of North, Central and South America, also recently released a two-volume report on drug policy. The OAS is the first multi national organization to acknowledge that drug prohibition has not worked and cannot succeed. The report outlined a number of options for governments to consider.

Dr Alex Wodak AM

Australia21 report now available!


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Ban Ki-Moon

In addition to criminalizing HIV transmission, many countries impose criminal sanctions for same-sex sex, commercial sex and drug injection. Such laws constitute major barriers to reaching key populations with HIV services. Those behaviours should be decriminalized, and people addicted to drugs should receive health services for the treatment of their addiction’.

For example, in Eastern Europe, people who inject drugs represent more than 80 per cent of all people living with HIV but account for less than 25 per cent of those receiving antiretroviral treatment.

Progress made in the implementation of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS

Report of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

7 May 2009