“PROHIBITION HAS FAILED” “PROHIBITION HAS FAILED” “PROHIBITION HAS FAILED”
In George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ teaching the sheep the new ‘chant’ is a reminder of how the sheep are used to consolidate the pigs power over the farm. Squealer - a master manipulator – teachers his sheep that repetition is the best technique to control the messages and convince the other farm animals farm animals that the pigs are the ones in charge.
It is the responsibility of Parliament to pass laws to protect the community from activities considered inherently dangerous or wrong. For example shoplifting, vandalism, speeding, assaults and rape. The destructive nature of street drugs on the mind and body and the subsequent result of changes in behaviour particularly the association of violence and central nervous stimulants cannot be eliminated by simply redefining this particular activity. Drug use remains inherently dangerous and this danger is exacerbated as more people become involved. It is well established that when prohibited drugs are freely available and socially acceptable there is an upsurge in use. REFER HISTORY. Furthermore if legal sanctions on any street drug were removed this would convey the message to young people that the government condones and is prepared to support an intoxicated lifestyle for a larger number of people. Considering the enormous national health debt incurred by the use of tobacco and alcohol begs the question - why would any rational government legalise an activity that would increase in this debt?
There are many crimes that we have failed to eradicate.
Should we legalise rape, theft, and remove speed limits simple because we have failed to eliminate them? No, we maintain our policing of anti-social behaviours in order to reduce the numbers. If we failed to do this, the results would be catastrophic. Pro drug activists shed copious crocodile tears about ‘criminalising’ young marijuana users. But in Australia young people don’t receive a criminal record for simple possession and use of marijuana. Recently I posted this fact on Twitter and I was challenged to support my claim. Fortunately I able to document a paragraph from my book ‘The Cruel Hoax’ written in 1994.
“Clearly a much discussed harm reduction strategy is the case of young people being jailed for simple position and use of marijuana. This would indeed be a concern if in reality it were happening in Australia. Fortunately this is not the case but the propaganda is fairly typical of the manipulation of facts that appears to be an inherent part of any discussion about this issue.
When the federal president of the AMA announced in 1994 that there were over one thousand young people languishing in Australian jails for simple possession and use of marijuana headlines blazed across the nation and many people were outraged. I was also very concerned and this prompted me to contact a few State Department Bureau of Statistics. The people I spoke to informed me that they had been inundated with phone calls from irate magistrates demanding to know who was imposing jail terms on first offenders. Eventually I was able to track down the correct statistics from the Department of Criminology. The number of young first offenders to be given jail terms was two hundred and nineteen. However these people were not jailed for simple position and use of marijuana but for possession of a smorgasbord of other streets drugs including heroin, cocaine. amphetamines etc. I have been reliably informed by a number of magistrates that it is exceedingly rare that the charge of simple possession and use of marijuana is the primary offence in these cases, it is usually added to the charges of theft, shoplifting and other similar crimes.
In fact it is contrary to the requirements of the United Nations International Treaty for first offenders and young people caught with small amounts of marijuana to be jailed or given a criminal record. As far as marijuana is concerned an evaluation of the requirements of the most recent International Convention clearly demonstrates a move from punitive to remedial measures to deal with personal position and use.” No one wishes to unfairly penalise young drug users, however a court appearance can often play an important role in preventing further involvement in drugs.
The intention of the 1988 United Nations Convention (Article 3(6)) that requires the possession and use of marijuana to remain a criminal offence is in order to help and protect young offenders.
“The reason for insisting they be bought into the judicial system is to enable magistrates to use the power of the courts to direct them to remedial measures.”
Most of the parents of a chronic drug user that I know wish that their family member had been prevented from continuing their use of marijuana by a court appearance at an early age. There is no doubt that for young people having to explain themselves in court is quite daunting but the fact that pro drug activists claim that they are being 'demonised and stigmatised' is farcical.
Let me reiterate that magistrates do not record convictions for simple possession and use of drugs but use their authority to direct users to drug education and rehabilitation. On the other hand if going to court can deter teenagers from continuing on a course of self-destructive behaviour that may result in ill health, their inability to work and ultimately ending up on sickness benefits and disability pensions I think that should be considered a good outcome. And surely an appearance in court is far better than a lifetime of drug addiction and all the associated problems.
It is impossible to make a comparison between the serious effects of marijuana, ecstasy and other designer drugs that are predominately used by adolescents with an adult who is addicted to heroin, cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. Each circumstance is entirely different with a range of variables. However ultimately we have to decide whether our obligation is to protect the young or allow adults to have carte blanche. You can’t have it both ways. I instinctively move towards the protection of children.
It is curious that the ‘elite’ perpetuate the myth that because people don’t support the removal of sanctions on street drugs that somehow this automatically means that they support criminalising people because they have an ‘addiction’. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe in a balanced policy based on demand reduction, harm prevention and the rehabilitation of drug addicts to drug free state.
JUSTICE FOR ALL
Nonetheless some shocking crimes are committed by people who are suffering a drug-induced psychosis and although each case will be judged with regard to the state of mind of the accused and crimes committed it is really puzzling when people suggest that if two people commit aggravated assault, the one who is on drugs should receive a lesser sentence. Is the assumption that without having used drugs the assailant would not have assaulted the victim, or is it because the assailant needed money for drugs that he committed the crime?
Let’s be perfectly clear about this. Whether obtaining drugs is the reason for the crime or whether the drug - such as the methamphetamine class of drug caused the assailant to commit a vicious attack, the indisputable fact is that the law is in place to protect the community and the assailant has broken the law.
Some would argue that diminished responsibility should be considered as a valid defence. But I would argue for the rights of the victim? Their rights are not merely diminished they are totally disregarded. Whose civil liberties are we trying to protect here? The perpetrator of the crime or the victim? What about children who are abused and assaulted in homes where the parents are on drugs- what about their rights?
I was speaking to a friend recently who works as a volunteer at a hospital in Melbourne. Each day groups of women visit the nursery where they sit for hours holding the babies of drug addicts. That is all they do - just cuddle and console infants who are going through withdrawal symptoms. While pro-drug activists are defending the ‘rights’ of drug users, to continue using their drug of ‘choice’, who is defending the right of these infants? In any case many drug users are already involved in criminal activity. There are a myriad of reasons people commit crime- greed, malice and revenge. All these ‘reasons’ may also include drug use, however we need to be very careful not to allow ‘reasons’ to become ‘excuses’.
The law is a direct expression of society’s intolerance towards mind-altering drugs. Young people need to be told of the drug laws and the legal consequences of drug use. Also we have to have faith in our magistrates and judges. On the whole they are mature and compassionate people. They would prefer to encourage people, particularly young people, to give up drug use rather than sending anyone to jail. Nevertheless there comes a point in time where people must take responsibility for their actions and if they keep reoffending then they have to face the consequences.
Take shoplifting as an example. Shoplifters steal approximately $10 billion worth of goods each year in Australia and according to the National Learning and Resource Centre one in eleven people shoplift. It is a crime that overburdens the police and the courts, adds to the stores’ security expenses, costs consumers more for goods, costs the community lost dollars in sales tax and causes pain and suffering for families. According to the research, ‘the excitement of ‘getting away with it’ produces a chemical reaction resulting in what shoplifters describe as an ‘incredible rush’ or ‘high’ feeling. I wonder what ‘harm minimisation’ strategies our ‘experts’ would recommend to curb shoplifting. Perhaps they would suggest to shoplifters that they only steal small items so that they won’t be ‘stigmatised’ by having to appear in court.
But in reality when shoplifters appear in court most magistrates hand down suspended sentences or issue fines for the first few offences. Nevertheless, eventually the shoplifter has to accept responsibility for his crime. He has shown contempt for the law and a complete lack of concern for the shopkeeper and the general public. Do you think that shoplifters’ rights take precedence over the people like you and me who have to pay extra for our merchandise?
It is the same with drug related crime. Their rights do not take precedence over the community and they must also be accountable.
Fraud is by far the biggest area of crime in Australia and one of the main sources of income for organised crime. No one is suggesting that we lift legal sanctions on fraud or for that matter any other criminal activities. Personally I can’t imagine how any of those other crimes could have more of a devastating effect than street drugs has on the individual, families and society in general.
Diagram to be inserted
Invariably the question arises about police corruption and while there is no doubt there has always been a certain element in the police force that is prone to corruption it didn’t suddenly evolve when drugs made an appearance on the street. There are corrupt lawyers, corrupt politicians, and corrupt journalists. There is corruption within the medical and teaching professions and in sport. Even, dare I say there are corrupt bureaucrats who exert their influence on their subordinates to accept their particular version of the truth about the drug issue? It seems to be an inherent weakness in some people who have power or money. It is not rational to use corruption in the police force as a reason for removing legal sanctions. It is just another excuse. When I was at the Drop in Centre in Melbourne I had a close association with the police. They would call in every day and were exceedingly compassionate and caring about every one who was there for counselling.
Although legislative activity rarely, if ever, eliminates criminal activity of a particular type the object of legislation is to reduce the level of activity to a degree that can be tolerated by the community. In any case if we look at it purely in economic terms we need to calculate if implementing law enforcement is more expensive than costs that would arise from lifting legal sanctions. No one has ever quantified the physical, psychological and social harm caused by street drugs. By the most conservative estimates such damage would be infinitely greater than that associated with the present use of alcohol and tobacco. Considering the tax generated through the sale of alcohol doesn’t cover the cost of alcohol related problems, I think we can safely assume that the same would apply to street drugs.
Advocates of legalisation claim that the U.S. experience with alcohol prohibition from 1919 to 1933 proves that drug prohibition does not work. However, the historical analogy is incorrect. Alcohol use had been a socially accepted, legally sanctioned behaviour in most Western societies for centuries and similar to Australia in the United States before prohibition, alcohol sales were restricted to adults and regulated as to time, place, amount, etc. Alcohol problems among minors were extremely rare and there was no commercial youth-alcohol culture. Thus prohibition removed a previously acceptable adult beverage from the legal market. Conversely the consumption and sale of street drugs, especially marijuana and hallucinogens expanded predominantly among minors. The majority of adults in Western societies have never socially or legally accepted use of these drugs.
Proponents of legalisation often claim that prohibition failed to curb alcohol abuse and led to vast increases in crime. They fail however to consider that the law banned "the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors" but it allowed the purchase and consumption of alcohol. Thus it countenanced, through omission, patronage of the bootlegger. Alcohol use was half-legal, half-illegal – a situation similar to the experimentation with decriminalisation of marijuana. When prohibition was finally lifted it failed to control organised crime. Operations were merely switched to other illegal activities.
Most importantly alcohol consumption declined dramatically during prohibition. Cirrhosis death rates for men were 29.5% per 100,000 in 1911 and 10.1% per 1000,000 in 1929. Admission rates to state mental hospitals for alcoholic psychosis declined from 10.1 per 100,000 in1922 to 4.7 in 1928. Arrests for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct declined by half between 1916 and1922 and for the population as a whole the best estimates are that consumption of alcohol declined by 30 to 50 %.
Violent crime did not increase dramatically during Prohibition (homicide rates rose dramatically from 1900 to 1910 but remained fairly constant during prohibition’s fourteen-year law - 1919 to 1933) Organised crime may have become more visible and lurid during Prohibition but it existed before and after. There is no question that to repeal the law prohibiting alcohol in 1933 was the prerogative of a democratic society. However for anyone to claim that Prohibition failed to benefit society or that it was responsible for an increase in crime is patently false.
Australians are a proud and independent nation and unlike the sheep in Animal Farm we don’t like to be ‘manipulated’. And we certainly don’t want apologists for the addiction industry selling off the hearts and minds of our children for thirty pieces of silver.
THE POWER OF POLITICS - ALL or NOTHING
For drug law reformers policies to work effectively it would be necessary to remove sanctions on all drugs including the botanically derived substances - opium, coca leaf, and cannabis. It is hard to imagine that drugs such as ICE, PCP LSD, ecstasy and psychoactive pills would have the imprimatur of the Australian government. Nevertheless, all psychotropic drugs and synthetic drugs would have to be available on demand - if not a black market would still operate. One of the greatest difficulties associated with the drug issue is the comparison of health related problems with the harm associated with crime and corruption. Since there is no basis for comparison the debate becomes frustrating and futile. The issue is exceedingly complex and although it is predominantly one of health it also has social, legal, economic and political implications. Nevertheless historical precedence and the experience of other countries demonstrate that on ‘balance’ it is better to maintain legal sanctions and concentrate on drug education in an effort to eliminate the demands. Legislated activity rarely if ever eliminates criminal activity of a particular type. But the object of the legislation is to reduce the level of activity to a degree that can be tolerated by the community.