Friday, 10 April 2015

Abbott should decriminalise drugs, not declare war on ice

On Wednesday, on the day after the Reserve Bank of Australia made its monthly announcement about the cash rate (it wasn't lowered), on what was reasonably expected to be a slow news day where there was no other major issue to occupy the public's attention, Tony Abbott appeared on TV at the offices of the Australian Federal Police and announced an inquiry into methamphetamines, or ice. It seems that whenever Abbott thinks he can get a bit of a boost in the opinion polls he's at the AFP's headquarters, on camera, spruiking some law enforcement initiative. Last time - as I recall - it was about the importation into Australia of guns. This time it was drugs.

It was a craven piece of political theatre designed to make Abbott appear tough and competent and the media duly followed along and for a day or so they played with the ball, chucking it up and down as they ran down the field. There was never any questioning of the basic premise of Abbott's announcement - that criminalising some substances for which there is demand in the community is a good thing - and so the saga dribbled on until the journalists gave up in despair when they realised there was actually nothing to the story. It was, as so much of what Abbott has done since his leadership was challenged this year, a beat-up.

But the fact is that there is no evidence that criminalising drugs does anything to prevent people using them. It does however send drug use underground, where it cannot be observed by the more responsible members of society. It also works to fund criminal gangs and other undesirables, funneling billions of dollars into the bank accounts of thugs and crims.

There is no upside. It is all about perception. In places where such substances have been decriminalised we can see improvements in the treatment of the problem of addiction. People can use the drugs in the open, rather than hiding their use, and so friends and family members can see what happens and maybe help to control their use. People can talk about drugs in a more mature and reasonable way when they are decriminalised, as well. Addiction can be treated as a health issue, which is as it should be, instead of a crime issue. So let's bring substance abuse out into the open by decriminalising the substances that are now driven underground by society, to a place where they become playthings for gutless and desperate politicians who are just hungry for public approval.

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