Official Party Document
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An end to the war on drugs
People have always sought to alter their consciousness. Most human activity is an attempt to either experience positive emotions, or gain relief from negative ones. For some, good fortune and friendship provide the means for happiness. However, people plagued by isolation and mental illness may look in other directions for peace and relief. It is this category of people who are the primary target and victims of the war on drugs.
The war on drugs is best understood as a war on a market. Such wars are futile: demand always creates supply, and ad-hoc attacks on supply channels do nothing other than reduce the quality of drugs and increase the risks. Harsh punishment for drug use targets people who are cut off and isolated, and cuts off and isolates them more. In this way, drug prohibition worsens the fundamental drivers of addiction and forces a substitution of an unregulated black market in place of the legal one, making criminals of regular citizens and funding organised crime.
The cost of the war on drugs
At present the illegal drug market is worth around $300 billion per year, making a mockery of prohibition. After 40 years, it is clear that the choice we face is not between drugs and no drugs, but between legal and illegal drug markets.
The illegal market funnels vast profits to criminals and imposes equally vast costs on society. The US spends $50 billion per year fighting the war on drugs, and global spending is far greater. The secondary costs are incalculable: jailing people for drug offences does far more to destroy individual lives and potential than the drugs themselves. The policy is ineptly targeted, excluding alcohol and tobacco while imposing massive punishments on non-violent users of much less harmful products. In producer countries, the illegal market has enriched drug cartels, causing thousands of deaths every year, corrupting civil societies and creating a risk of failed states.
Prohibition offers no success on any front: figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime show no observable decline in global drug use, nor is any decline evident in Australia. Results among individual nations show no correlation between drug use levels and the harshness of drug laws.
The experience of Portugal—where decriminalisation led to an observable fall in addiction and deaths—suggests that a much better approach exists. Imprisonment is an immoral and ineffective way of handling mental health issues and other drivers of drug abuse. It is cheaper and more effective to handle these issues in the sphere of public health. Legalising and taxing safe drugs will raise revenue to fund better support services for addicts and their families. Decriminalising other drugs will broaden options for treatment and allow help to be extended without the threat of criminal sanctions. Effective policy must offer help and treatment, but must also recognise that most drug users are neither addicts nor criminals.
In handling drugs, policymakers should also take note of their one success: the campaign against tobacco. The anti-tobacco campaign has reduced the proportion of smokers by 40% over 20 years through a combination of advertising, warnings, and social sanctions in a legal framework. It is a far more successful model than prohibition, and a broader application of it should be considered.
Ultimately however, successful drug policy must bear in mind that the opposite of addiction is not abstinence, but connection. The state cannot control what a person puts into their own body—but it can help addicts to reconnect with society and offer a pathway out of addiction.
The Pirate Party proposes an end to the failed war on drugs and a shift towards an evidence-based model which treats drugs as a health issue instead of a criminal one.
Pirate Party Australia advocates the following reforms:
Legalise safe, non-addictive drugs
- Establish a controlled substances committee comprising healthcare professionals. This committee will be instructed to use fact- and evidence-based approaches to:
- Classify psychoactive substances based on criteria such as:
- Addictive properties
- Habituating properties
- Perception impairment
- Reversible impact on the user
- Known therapeutic properties
- Re-classification will be performed periodically.
- The committee will be able to recommend conditions for obtaining legalised substances, such as requiring a psychological evaluation, etc.
- Classify psychoactive substances based on criteria such as:
- Legalise substances which are non-addictive and have a reversible impact on the user.
- Apply a tax to legalised drugs.
- Tax rates will be set at a level which balances the need to manage health impacts with the need to provide financial incentives to avoid the black market.
- Regulate sales of legalised drugs.
- Require licences for retailers (as per conditions for selling alcohol).
- Include mandatory warnings on health risks.
- Restrict products to sale in limited quantities, with no sales to intoxicated persons.
- Ban all forms of advertising.
- Ensure products are subject to strict quality control, with penalties for poor product quality being equivalent to those currently applied to pharmaceuticals.
- Require age verification for all drug sales.
- Exports to countries where drugs remain illegal will be a criminal offence unless products are sold under license to authorities in those countries that are legally permitted such purchases.
- Retain criminal penalties for making drugs available to minors.
Partially decriminalise drugs which fail to meet the threshold for legalisation
- Apply decriminalisation to possession, purchase and consumption of small quantities (up to 14 days supply) of drugs for personal use.
- Handle infractions outside the criminal justice system, with civil penalties including confiscation of drugs, treatment recommendations, and suspension of the right to practice in a profession where a duty of care exists.
- Ensure treatment can be imposed as part of a prosecution if other civil or criminal acts are committed by a person under the influence of drugs.
- Penalties for the sale of small quantities of decriminalised drugs should include fines and confiscation of products under civil law.
- Retain criminal sanctions for possession, sale or smuggling of substances in commercial quantities.
- Allow decriminalised drugs to be available under prescription.
- Supply would be procured following medical consultation in instances where harm minimisation or addiction treatment requires it, or as a mechanism for reducing black market purchasing.
- Chemists providing drugs will be required to provide dosage levels, toxicity information, and information about side effects, as per standard requirements for medication.
Redirect existing resources and additional revenue to fund more research and support services
- Expand mental health services, rehabilitation facilities, community support services, emergency housing, and programs to assist addicts with social re-integration.
- Persons seeking treatment will be entitled to protection of their privacy as per a doctor-patient relationship.
- Adopt harm minimisation techniques.
- Pharmacies will be encouraged to make clean needles and drug testing kits available.
- Redirect police and prison resources towards preventing violent crime.
- Curb the use of sniffer dogs and random "inspections" at public events.
- Undo restrictions on research and data collection imposed during prohibition.
- Re-start research programs utilising previously banned drugs.
- Re-start data collection on drug use and drug effects.
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "Promoting Health, Security and Justice - Cutting the Threads of Drugs, Crime and Terrorism 2010 Report." The UNOCD 2010 Report, p 44.
- National Research Council. Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us. Washington DC: The National Academic Press, 2001. p1.
- Mexico Gulf Reporter. "47,515 have died in Mexico's five year drug war, says country's Attorney General." Mexico Gulf Reporter. 11 January, 2012. http://www.mexicogulfreporter.com/2012/01/47515-have-died-in-mexicos-five-year.html (accessed 24 April, 2013).
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "Recent Statistics and Trend Analysis of Illicit Drug Markets." 2012. p 7. http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/WDR2012/WDR_2012_Chapter1.pdf (accessed 24 April, 2013).
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. "Drugs in Australia 2010." November 2011. p43. http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737420455 (accessed 24 April, 2013).
- The Economist. "How to stop the drug wars." The Economist. 5 March, 2009. http://www.economist.com/node/13237193 (accessed 24 April, 2013).
- Hughes, Caitlin & Stevens, Alex. The Effects of Decriminalization of Drug Use in Portugal. The Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme. December 2007. p5. http://www.beckleyfoundation.org/bib/doc/bf/2007_Caitlin_211672_1.pdf (accessed 24 April, 213).
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. "Drugs in Australia 2010." November 2011. p3. http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737420455 (accessed 24 April, 2013).
- Gumbiner Ph.D., Jann. Is Marijuana Addictive? — Can recreational pot smokers become addicted?" Psychology Today. 5 December, 2010. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-teenage-mind/201012/is-marijuana-addictive (accessed March 2, 2013).
- Hilts, Philip J. "Relative Addictiveness of Drugs." New York Times. 2 August, 1994. http://www.tfy.drugsense.org/tfy/addictvn.htm (accessed 2 March, 2012).
- Arkowitz, Hal & Lilienfeld, Scott O. "Experts Tell the Truth about Pot." Scientific American. 22 February, 2012). http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-truth-about-pot (accessed March 2, 2013).
- Roques Bernhard. Problemes posées par la dangerosité des drogues. Report to the Secretary of State for Health (France). 1998. Excerpts translated at http://www.chanvre-info.ch/info/en/Hemp-is-less-toxic-than-alcohol-or.html (accessed 2 March, 2013).
- Hastings, John. "Relative Addictiveness of Various Substances." Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. November/December 1990. http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/misc/addictiv.htm (accessed March 2, 2013).
- Lüscher, Christian & Ungless, Mark A. "The Mechanistic Classification of Addictive Drugs." PLOS Medicine. 14 November, 2006. http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030437 (accessed March 2, 2013).