Redefining drug use

Aslan Shand, acting editor

Have you ever enjoyed a beer or a glass of wine? While for some religious groups it is banned, and I respect their choice, I also expect my choice to enjoy a glass of red to be respected. This is about personal choice and personal responsibility and living in a multicultural and respectful society. 

I acknowledge that as an adult I’m responsible for the amount I imbibe and that as a member of society I have to accept the consequences of my actions. If I get behind the wheel of a vehicle while over the limit there are consequences. If I cause violence and harm to others as a result of my drinking there will be consequences.

But if I decide to quietly drink myself to death, causing no direct harm to others, then that is my choice. The consequence may be death but as an adult I am free to make that decision whether you agree with it or not.

The question is, why are we only allowed to make these personal choices in regards to drugs like alcohol and cigarettes? What is it about heroin, cannabis, ice, cocaine, MDMA or psychedelics that suddenly changes the debate?

Why are we suddenly subject to the moral choice of others when in the majority of cases my choice to take any of those drugs is unlikely to impact upon them or the public at large?

Of those who use cocaine and opiates, 23 and 25 per cent respectively experience a drug-use disorder, according to research cited at the recent Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘Ice’ hearing in Sydney. The reality of these numbers are that on average 75 per cent of cocaine and opiate users don’t have a problem. That is, they are able to quite happily use their drug of choice without negative effect on their families, friends or society at large. 

A significant part of the problem is that we see drugs as ‘bad’ – that is, at least, the ones people take for fun! 

The position of Dr Weatherburn, Adjunct Professor, University of Sydney Law School during the discussion was clear – that drug use, of any type, was harmful. Therefore any increase in use as a result of decriminalisation would potentially negate any overall positive effect that decriminalisation may achieve – in relation to reduction in crime, incarceration and repeat offences.  

However, the evidence provided, and now being accepted around the world is that criminalisation has failed and that the management of drug disorders needs to look at alternative ways to assist people. 

Professor Gallop, Commissioner to the Global Commission on Drug Policy was also clear, stating that, ‘the UN board that heads the 30-odd agencies under the umbrella of the UN, including the UN office on drugs and crime, resolved [in January this year] to promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases including the decriminalisation of possession for personal use  and to promote the principle of proportionality.’ During his address he particularly referenced the Portugal model of decriminalisation as the UN’s preferred model to follow.

So the real question should not be, do we decriminalise or even legalise drugs, that should be taken as read. The real question is how do we help those people who have a drug disorder? How do we help people whose drug addiction is negatively affecting the lives of others to recognise this?

How do we acknowledge that some people are able to take their drugs and live their lives and we don’t need to interfere?

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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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