Mark Metherell, Geesche Jacobsen April 03, 2012
"The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are letting it happen." ... Bob Carr. Photo: Reuters
THE Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, is among a group of prominent Australians who have declared the ''war on drugs'' a failure in the most significant challenge to drug laws in decades.
''The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are letting it happen,'' says a report released today by the group, which includes the former federal police chief Mick Palmer, the former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, the former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, a former Defence Department secretary, Paul Barratt, the former federal health ministers Michael Wooldridge and Peter Baume, and the drug addiction expert Alex Wodak.
Senator Carr, the former NSW premier, agreed to join the campaign before becoming Foreign Affairs Minister. In his contribution to the report he questions whether the pursuit of marijuana users is the best use of police time.
''An issue that worried me while I was in NSW politics was the police hitting railway stations with sniffer dogs. It was marijuana that was the focus.''
This was a victimless crime and he would have preferred police ''to do things like make public transport safe and clean up Cabramatta'', he said.
A spokesman for Senator Carr said last night that he supported drug law reform but as a federal minister would be supporting government policy in this area.
The report was written by the population health expert Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas and a social research consultant, David McDonald, for the think tank Australia21, which held a roundtable at Sydney University in January.
It calls for a fundamental rethink of drug policies and ''an end to the tough on drugs approach''. Last year the Global Commission on Drug Policy said the war on drugs had failed ''with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world''.
Dr Wooldridge, who as health minister supported a heroin trial in the ACT which was blocked by the then prime minister, John Howard, says in the new report: ''The key message is that we have 40 years of experience of a law and order approach to drugs and it has failed.''
Mr Cowdery, a long-time advocate of drug law reform, said the prohibition of drug use created social and health problems, as well as a ''proliferation of crime … and an increase in the corruption of law enforcement''.
He strongly favoured legalising, regulating, controlling and taxing all drugs.
''A first step towards such a regime could be decriminalisation, similar to the approach adopted 10 years ago in Portugal,'' Mr Cowdery said.
''The key as I see it is to try to reduce substantially the profit potentially able to be made by criminal activity in the drug trade and the only way to do that as I see it, ultimately, is to legalise, regulate, control and tax all drugs.''
Mr Cowdery said politicians were reluctant to reopen the debate ''for fear it would be politically disadvantageous''.
''That's why I think we need to have the discussion in the community and … to demonstrate to the politicians that there is a significant proportion of people that want something better.''
But this morning Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said she was sceptical about deregulating Australia's drug laws and said there would need to be a "very high threshold" for change.
"I think we need to tread very, very cautiously in this area," she told ABC radio.
Ms Roxon said she needed to read the report before she suggested any particular action but said that she was open to a debate about drugs.
"As a government we're always interested and happy to engage in debate but there's a pretty high threshold," Ms Roxon said.
"It think it's entirely appropriate for people to look at the difficult social questions that have dogged us for years."
About 15 per cent of Australians used one or more illicit drugs in 2009, the latest statistics published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show. But the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy said in a report last year that 22 per cent of people used illegal drugs in 1998.
with Judith Ireland
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