Australian Drug Law Reform News

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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

Denmark withdraws funding from the UNODC

Australia should take note of this recent decision by Denmark. Does Australia know if any of its donations to UNODC or Asian countries are used in part or full for executions of people convicted of drug offenses? Or used for compulsory treatment? It’s time that Australia made an open commitment to only donate funds for prevention, drug treatment or harm reduction.

More information about the link between international aid, drug enforcement and human rights violations can be found on the London School of Economics website.

Breaking the Taboo (documentary)

Breaking the Taboo is a global grass-roots campaign website against the War on Drugs, run by the Beckley Foundation in association with The Global Commission on Drug Policy, Virgin Unite, Avaaz and Sundog Pictures. The Mission Statement of the campaign is the Beckley Foundation Public Letter calling for a new approach to the War on Drugs, signed by nine Presidents, twelve Nobel prizewinners, and many other world figures. The site hosts a coalition of international NGOs, united in their belief that the War on Drugs has failed and that global drug policy can and must be reformed. An Avaaz petition is hosted on the site, which will be presented to the UN. We hope that by collecting together so many voices calling for change, we will finally be able to persuade governments and lawmakers into adopting a humane and rational approach to drugs.

Regulating Cannabis

Common sense has prevailed in two US states that yesterday voted to regulate cannabis.

Voters in Colorado and Washington state have sent a clear message to their elected officials that punishing people for a consensual transaction (buying and selling cannabis) violates the will of the majority.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board, Department of Agriculture and Department of Health have until December 1, 2013 to create a licensing system that involves the taxation, production and sale of cannabis. It will remain an offense to sell cannabis to people under the age of 21 and drive whilst intoxicated.

Like any agricultural commodity designed for human consumption, product regulations are likely to ensure cannabis is sold with appropriate health warnings and is grown in stable soil conditions, treated for mold spore and placed in airtight packaging with an expiration date.

The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation welcomes the decision to tax and regulate cannabis.

According to a report prepared by Commonwealth Government in 1994:

Australian society experiences more harm, we conclude, from maintaining the prohibition policy than it experiences from the use of the drug

We call on all Australians to join others in agitating for law reform and to protect the health and safety of our communities by regulating cannabis.

Australian Cartoonist tackles the War on Drugs

Australian Cartoonist Stuart McMillen has produced a wonderful comic that highlights the similarities between our current policy of drug prohibition and alcohol prohibition in 1920’s America. Stuart has very generously made the entire publication available online.

His forthcoming work is explained in the video below:

Stuart is currently looking for funds to turn his ideas into reality. Readers can support him by ‘crowdfunding’ his new project here.

Alternatives to Prohibition

Over in our right-hand column you will find a link to the newly released Australia21 report Alternatives to Prohibition: Illicit drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians. You will also find links to a number of other reports that highlight different approaches to drug laws around the world and the effect they have had.

The release of such a widely publicised document on drug policy draws a considerable amount of attention and generates a tremendous amount of discussion. Here are a number of feature articles that have appeared over the last week:

Drug use is an issue for society, not the criminal justice system by Richard Horton
Dobbing mothers unite for drug reform by Lisa Pryor
Drug prohibition: moving to Plan B by Alex Wodak
Australia’s pointless and deadly drugs crackdown by Greg Barns
A new approach to drug reform: regulated supply of cannabis and ecstasy by David Penington
Leaders know they have stupid drug policies, but don’t have the guts to change them by Tory Shepherd
Expert supports legalising drugs in The Northern Star

Medical marijuana coverage on Channel 7

The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation welcomes Channel 7’s stereotype busting story about the use of medical marijuana among older Americans. The complete video of this story, which aired on the network’s Sunday Night program, is available to view on their website.

Efforts to establish a medical cannabis trial in New South Wales have been underway since 1999.

In October 2011 the Californian Medical Association [CMA] became the first medical society to officially support marijuana legalisation.

Their President James T. Hay MD, as reported by the American Medical Association, explained that:

“This was a carefully considered, deliberative decision made exclusively on medical and scientific grounds”

Free event

UPDATE: A recording of this event is now available to stream: