The failed war on drugs (part 2)

Let’s Talk About the $10b Elephant in the Room

In Australia, discussing drugs, and our laws to deal with them remains largely taboo. This is in stark contrast to the U.S, where legalising, taxing and regulating marijuana has become mainstream Democratic politics, even to the point where many U.S political commentators view favouring ‘pot legalisation’ as a litmus test for any potential 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate in the primaries. Knowing this, it might surprise you to learn that in Australia, we spend far more per capita on purchasing illegal drugs than the U.S does. Similarly though, we also spend a great deal of extra money on top of that in our efforts to stop Australians spending billions of dollars each year on drugs. According to the most recent comprehensive review of drug policy expenditure in Australia, the Government Drug Policy Expenditure in Australia – 2009/10, our combined state and federal government spending on illegal drugs was $1.7 billion for the financial year 2009/10.[1] Unsurprisingly, according to recent data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that figure is dwarfed by our actual consumer spending on illegal recreational psychoactive drugs; a whopping $7.1 billion during the very same period.[2] So while discussing drug policy in Australia is still viewed as taboo by many as a ‘radical’ or ‘fringe’ suggestion, it would seem that actually purchasing and consuming drugs isn’t all that uncommon in Australia.

Make no mistake about it; this is not some fringe phenomenon happening at the margins of society. While discussing drug use openly is still largely taboo, the figures would suggest that consuming them has gone mainstream. The $7.1 billion Australians spend purchasing illegal recreational drugs each year is $2 billion more than we spent on “fashion” during the same period, and twice as much as we spent on literature.[3] This would suggest drug users represent a larger minority of the population than those who read books, and yet we still feel the need to regulate the publishing industry, and classify books according to age-appropriateness, making sure for example that 50 Shades of Grey does not end up in the hands of a child. It’s also almost exactly half what we spent on alcohol during the same period, which is a huge generator of tax revenues for governments. To combat this ‘underground criminal activity’, the federal Labor Government currently allocates the vast majority (or 2/3) of the total $1.7 billion of government spending on drug laws, to law enforcement ($1.12 billion).[4] $360 million (21%) goes to treatment, $157 million (9%) to prevention, and $36 million (a staggering 2%) of our drug spending goes towards harm minimisation.[5] So, two-thirds of the $1.7 billion we spend each year to maintain our ‘War on Drugs’ goes directly towards criminally charging and prosecuting those found to either be in possession of drugs, or to have distributed them.

While Australia’s courts may, for the most part, be more lenient when it comes to sentencing than their U.S counterparts have historically been, the fact is that anyone found with illicit drugs (unless it’s a very small amount of marijuana, and a first offence, and you’re fortunate to be caught in one of the few states that offers drug diversion to first time cannabis offenders), then you will receive a criminal conviction, which you will then have to disclose on almost all job applications (and which will prevent you from ever being granted a visa to travel in the U.S). While the U.S and Australia seem to have a habit of picking Presidents and Prime Ministers who admit to having used drugs like marijuana and cocaine regularly before entering politics, being caught by police doing the same thing the last 3 U.S Presidents and our first female Prime Minister have all admitted to doing on an ongoing basis, will often even disqualify you from holding a job at many petrol stations or fast food restaurants in Australia, let alone access to meaningful employment or a living wage.

Here’s the thing; “It would be one thing if our drug laws were draconian and they worked, but they’re draconian and they don’t work.”[6] Since Richard Nixon began the ‘War on Drugs’ in the 1970’s, rates of drug use, abuse, addiction, and drug related crime, have all increased. In the U.S, are currently 2.3 million people in prison, the vast majority of whom are incarcerated on non-violent drug offences[7] In fact, over the same period, in every developed country that has taken a tough approach to drugs, things have steadily gotten worse, while in those countries with more liberal drug laws, things have steadily improved. The United Nations 2011 Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy  cites several such examples[8] So what should we do?

Legalise drugs.

What you just heard, was the collective sigh of probably a majority of the young, progressive Australian political activists reading this, who view those who propose this change in policy, as radical fringe dwellers on the extreme edge of the Australian political spectrum, whose only interest in the debate is bourgeois desire to promote easier access to their ‘lifestyle drug’ of choice. Even today, the taboo in Australia around discussing this issue candidly remains so strong that many young progressive activists I’ve spoken to think that openly advocating for the legalisation, taxation, and regulation of psychoactive recreational drugs is enough to make a young person unemployable in political circles. While these views are not ones that I share, I can understand the reason that many well meaning young left-wing and progressive Australians feel apprehensive about the thought of legalising drugs. As stated in the first of this series of articles covering this history of the global drug war, illicit drugs are dangerous and potentially harmful to people. I don’t think there is anyone who disagrees with this statement, not even the ‘radical fringe dwellers’ themselves. So why on earth would we make them legal? To do so seems completely counter-intuitive, especially to compassionate people who come from a broadly left wing and/or progressive perspective. Here’s why I believe it’s not:

In Australia, those of us who hold a left wing ideology, or a progressive perspective on issues, tend to firmly believe that when it comes to dangers and potential harms that society is exposed to, the government has a role to play in protecting its people. Indeed, this is a strong belief that I too share, as a progressive and left-leaning follower of politics. But this is where we part ways; I believe that many of my comrades, with whom I agree on almost every other issue, have made the understandable mistake of believing that creating a strict prohibition on drugs, backed up by severe criminal penalties, represents the ultimate form of regulation on drugs. My central contention is that what this actually represents is not the ultimate form of regulation, but in fact the exact opposite; the complete abduction of any responsibility for government to safely regulate these substances in the public interest, and as a matter of public health policy. The ‘War on Drugs’ has not abolished or restricted the markets for drugs, in fact it has done the opposite. What we have created is in fact the ultimate free market, a modern ‘wild-west’ of drug distribution.

The drug markets of the world are some of the few remaining truly free markets, immune from taxes, and any sort of government oversight. Indeed the only form of government intervention these drug supply markets ever experience is the occasional ‘raid’/’bust’, which suppliers merely view and assess in the same way any other business assesses risk. Risk is an inherent part of capitalist free market business, there is no business in any global or domestic market that is not exposed to some form of risk. Drug suppliers, like all businesses, conduct a risk assessment, and factor that risk assessment into their required profit margins, and when setting price-points for various products and quantities. This is why the prices of illicit drugs are so artificially inflated, particularly in Australia. For example, a gram of cocaine which costs far less than $1 to produce[9] retails for between $250-500 in Australia (not to mention that by the time it reaches the consumer who pays that $250-500, it has ordinarily passed through so many sets of unscrupulous hands that have ‘cut’ it with cheap adulterants to increase their own profit margins, that only a small fraction of the gram of powder the consumer receives is likely to be actual cocaine). Cocaine may be an extreme example in the Australian context, because the sources of it are all far away, so in addition to shipping costs, there are the risks that each of the individuals transporting the product also take, built into the cost, along with in many cases, the cost of funding actual wars.

In Mexico alone, since 2006 more than 60 000 people have died in drug cartel related violence.[10] In Ciudad Juarez, just one city in Mexico, between 2008 and 2011 there were more than 10 000 drug cartel related homicides.[11] That’s more deaths than Afghanistan’s civilian casualties throughout the same period, and it’s more than twice the number of U.S troops killed throughout the entire Iraq war.[12] Again, this is just one single city in Mexico, not an entire state or country. I’d remind those who oppose dramatic reform to our drug laws that it is the laws themselves that have caused the creation of outlaw drug cartels who essentially function as large, privately funded non-state armies that have killed tens of thousands of people. These militia’s have everything to do with the policies of the ‘War on Drugs’, and nothing to do with the actual effects of drugs on people.

In Australia things are not so extreme, most of the world’s drug related violence stays out of sight and out of mind for us and we’ve largely escaped most of the worst consequences of the drug war, which is very fortunate for us, given that the most recent available ABS data suggests in 2010 we spent more $7 billion on illegal recreational drugs – more than 7 times the total government spending on drug policies.[13] In Australia, the most commonly used illicit drugs are cannabis ($3.8b/yr), and amphetamines ($1.5b/yr), followed by cocaine, heroin, and MDMA (ecstasy).[14]

Under the status quo, every year that passes we spend more on purchasing illegal drugs, and more on putting people in prison for doing so. In Australia, a country that spends more than $7 billion per year purchasing illegal drugs, the leaders of both major parties tell us that the status quo is the way to go, that spending $1.12 billion on law enforcement, $360 million on treatment, $157 million on ‘prevention’, and a truly meagre $36 million on harm minimisation, is the most efficient and effective way to combat the problem of Australians syphoning $7.1 billion out of the Australian economy, into a tax-free black market that goes mainly towards funding violent organised criminal organisations, such as bikie gangs. As the evidence has indicated for decade after decade – it is neither.

At this point, I’d like to clear up a popular misconception about drug law reform. Many people often make the mistake of conflating the terms ‘legalising’ and ‘decriminalising’. Many other, often progressively minded people recognise that there is a difference between the two, but say they only favour decriminalising ‘soft’ drugs like marijuana, recognising that there is a problem with the status quo, but thinking that decriminalisation represents a more moderate, and sensibly cautious and incremental path forward to take than completely legalising psychoactive drugs. Here’s why that’s not right:

‘Decriminalisation’, in terms of drug law reform, means maintaining the illegal status of all currently prohibited drugs, but changing the possession of very small quantities of certain drugs to a civil offence punishable by fines, rather than a criminal offence. So instead of going to court and receiving a criminal conviction, drug users caught possessing small amounts of certain drugs would instead be forced to pay a fine (a civil penalty). While it would be undoubtedly be an improvement to see fewer people’s lives and career prospects ruined by a criminal offence for a non-violent, victimless crime, this wouldn’t really change anything else. Drug cartels will still kill tens of thousands of people each year. Bikie gangs will continue to thrive in Australia, supported by their endless source of tax-free profits. It will still be easier for teenagers under the age of 18 to access illicit drugs than it is for them to access alcohol.[15] Those who get caught and pay fines will continue to be disproportionately poor and uneducated people, non-white (and even more disproportionately Aboriginal), many of whom are drug addicts themselves, precisely because of their poverty and lack of education, and access to a living wage in the legal economy, and because of lack of treatment for mental health problems like depression and anxiety.[16] Without any real prospects for a decent career, or even a living wage, let alone one capable of supporting a family, many of these people do reoffend, and will continue to do so in the absence of any significant and meaningful change to the laws.[17] Australians will continue to spend more than $7 billion per year purchasing illicit drugs, almost all of which goes directly or indirectly to funding organised criminal syndicates like bikie gangs, and not a single cent of which is taxed.[18] Instead of tinkering around the edges with anti-bikie laws that ban certain individuals from ever seeing other individuals, which have so far been ruled unconstitutional, we could completely eliminate bikie gangs with one single move, paralysing criminal organisation by cutting off their source of income almost entirely.

Many opponents of drug law reform often argue that policing can work, the problem is that we just don’t have enough of it. As evidence for their claim, the cite the occasional large-scale drug raid and seizure. To be fair, there are big arrests every now and then under the current regime, like the major NSW police operation in February this year that led to the largest ever seizure of methamphetamines in Australia’s history – 585kg.[19] Surely the largest meth seizure we’ve ever had would have helped reduce rates of abuse, right? Well, some quick back of the envelope calculations tell us that based on available data, that quantity would be enough to supply Australia’s methamphetamine market for about a month.[20] This might be a pretty persuasive argument for our current prohibitionist policies, if police were seizing this amount of methamphetamines every month. The fact remains that this is seizure was unprecedented in nature, with our previous largest seizure weighing only 300kg (half as much), also in Sydney, in July of 2012.[21] Furthermore, the reality of this record seizure is that it was the culmination of a multi-million dollar, multi-agency, year-long investigation by a taskforce comprised of members from the Australian Federal Police, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Crime Commission, the NSW Police Force, and the NSW Crime Commission.[22] If we were actually trying to conduct enough of these operations to completely eliminate the supply of methamphetamines and other drugs in Australia, the government would spiral into unsustainable debt before we even came close to even putting a dent in existing drug supply markets.

This kind of story is hardly unique to Australia. The global ‘War on Drugs’ is an abject policy failure that has cost trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives, and immeasurable harm to families, communities and society in general.  While decriminalisation may reduce some of the social harm to some families and communities by what would essentially amount to the decriminalisation of poverty, lack of education, and mental health problems, it would not significantly reduce the billions of dollars that are wasted on law enforcement, nor would it prevent the hundreds and thousands of deaths associated with drug cartels. Make no mistake; decriminalisation will not change the status quo.

Legalisation on the other hand, is a game changer. One of the common misconceptions about legalisation when it comes to drugs is the belief that legalisation means that what illegal drug manufacturers, suppliers and dealers are currently doing, would somehow become legal. That is absolutely not what is meant by legalisation, at least not by anyone who should be taken seriously on the issue. For any fans the show Breaking Bad, legalisation does not mean that what Heisenberg does is no longer against the law! The entire point of legalising these substances is so that the supply of them can be loosely or tightly regulated by government, perhaps on a case by case basis. The effect of legalisation would eliminate all current illegal drug manufacturers and distribution networks overnight. I will briefly touch on the variety of different potential regulatory models out there for drugs later in this article, but for the purposes of this point, let’s use the most commonly proposed regulatory model for marijuana legalisation as an example; the ‘regulate marijuana like alcohol’ model.

Proponents of marijuana legalisation often make the case that pot should be legal, and regulated in a similar way to the way we regulate alcohol. This certainly doesn’t seem an unreasonable request, given that harmful consumption of alcohol which kills thousands each year from otherwise preventable diseases, which was estimated by a recent report to cost taxpayers $36 billion each year, as well as causing 70 000 alcohol related violent assaults each year, 24 000 of which are classified as domestic violence.[23] Add to this a long and well documented association with sexual assaults, and alcohol’s longstanding position as the country’s second most prolific cause of preventable deaths and diseases like cardiovascular disease, liver and other types of cancer, addiction, self-harm, obesity, diabetes, liver diseases, and mental health problems like anxiety and depression.[24] This is largely because the ratio of a fatal dose of alcohol to an effective recreational dose, is roughly only 10:1.[25] Contrast this with marijuana, which has a fatal : effective ratio of roughly 1000:1.[26] In other words, you can’t overdose or do any serious physical harm from smoking much more cannabis than is necessary to get high, even if you tried. You would have to ingest literally more than a thousand times the effective dose, to come anywhere near dangerous levels, unlike alcohol, which can and does regularly lead to hospitalisation of people because of accidental overdose Add to that no documented link with cancer and other serious long term health problems, no causal relationship with violence whatsoever, and zero recorded fatalities from overdose.[27] As U.S comedian Bill Maher says anecdotally, “Show me the pothead who gets home from work, smokes a joint and then beats his wife.”

This is of course not to say that smoking pot is completely without consequence. As with alcohol, anti-biotics, and paracetamol or aspirin to take a few of examples, all drugs have both effects and side effects. For example, based on available evidence it appears there is a reasonable question about whether chronic long term marijuana use may accelerate the early onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia in individuals genetically predisposed to those diseases (although there is also some evidence that suggests this may in fact actually be due to the fact that individuals with those genetic predispositions tend to have an attraction to ongoing use of marijuana at higher rates than the rest of the population). It should also be said that different drugs react differently with different people. With some drugs, like heroin (which has a fatal : effective ratio of only 5:1 (for experienced users)) the same recreational dose of a psychoactive drug that is considered safe for one person to consume could easily amount to a lethal overdose for another.[28]  An ordinary recreation dose for a daily heroin user for example could easily be enough to several inexperienced users dividing the dose between them. These factors (amongst others) are precisely why it is of great importance that our government should finally accept responsibility to tightly regulate the supply of these potentially harmful substances in the public interest, as a matter of public health and safety. In addition to this, there are a number of other factors, like the varying tolerances of experienced and inexperienced drug users.

With all currently illicit drugs, it is impossible for consumers to know what doses of the active chemical they are getting, what other cheaper illicit drugs or dangerous adulterants have been added to the product, and therefore whether it is safe for them to consume. For example; MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine), the active chemical in ‘ecstasy’, in pure form, is a very safe substance.[29] It is impossible to accidentally to overdose on – you would have to take more than 16 times more than the dose that already gives the maximum possible effect for the user.[30] In practise, this amounts to the difference between taking 1-2 pills, and 16-32 pills. There is no recreational value whatsoever in going beyond that effective dose, because when MDMA is used, it is not the drug which gives the user the desired effects, but rather it’s the release of a finite amount the serotonin and oxytocin that already exists in the human body, which gives the desired effects, altering the mood, consciousness, and perceptions of the user. This is what makes it completely pointless for users of MDMA to go beyond an effective dose. This almost ‘self-regulatory’ aspect of the drug makes it pointless for users to ‘chase the high’, a phenomenon which leads some addicts to overdose on certain other types of psychoactive drugs, like heroin and alcohol for example. This simply does not happen with MDMA, as any attempt to do so would yield no discernible improvement to the user’s experience, and therefore no desirable benefit to the user. Most people of course do not know this about MDMA, largely thanks to media reports and government anti-drug propaganda, which tend to represent ecstasy as a drug that renders the user dangerously out of control of their behaviour, and potentially violent.

In fact, the actual effects of MDMA are quite the opposite of what they are represented as in mainstream media. As mentioned above, MDMA is qualitatively different to a lot of recreational psychoactive drugs, in that the ‘high’ that users experience is not the direct result of the drug, but rather the result of a large and relatively immediate release of the serotonin and oxytocin already present in the human body, which is triggered by the drug. Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the human body, and oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone. Both are responsible for regulating your mood, among other things.[31] At any time you are experiencing happiness, love, intimacy, excitement, empathy, compassion, or a sense of solidarity with others, it’s in large part because your body is releasing lots of serotonin and oxytocin which is flowing to the natural receptors in your brain.[32] MDMA (or ‘ecstasy’) is merely a tool employed by users to trigger a significant release of the serotonin & oxytocin already present in the user, which then floods the brain’s serotonin receptors.

Once you understand that basic scientific mechanism that allows MDMA to work, it is hardly surprising to learn that the principal effects of this quick release serotonin & oxytocin are on the user’s emotions and mood; an intense sense of euphoria, followed by an overwhelmingly inflated sense of empathy for others, as well as a heightened level of emotional security, openness and introspection, “without notably affecting other psychological functions, such as visual perception or cognitive process”.[33] Again, contrary to government anti-drug advertising and mainstream media reporting, MDMA does not inebriate or impair the cognitive abilities of the user at anywhere near the level that even a relatively small dose of alcohol does. In fact, rather than decreasing sensory perception like alcohol, MDMA actually enhances it. As an empathogen (a class of psychoactive drugs that promote distinct feelings of empathy for others) the principal effect of the drug reported by users is an intense feeling of euphoria, followed by a strongly enhanced sense of empathy or compassion for others[34]. Unlike the groggy-fog of alcohol intoxication, the effects of MDMA do not leave the user feeling intoxicated, but extremely clear headed and sober. This is because MDMA merely triggers a significant release of serotonin & oxytocin in the user, which mainly affects mood, emotions and perceptions, unlike alcohol which mainly affects cognitive abilities. The sudden release of the body’s serotonin & oxytocin reserves more or less results in a consciousness, mood, and set of perceptions that exponentially intensify feelings of happiness, love, and empathy and emotional trust with others, as well as allowing promoting a heightened level of personal emotional introspection in the user.[35]

In studies, many users reported that they felt there were therapeutic aspects of the drug, and that it allowed for a heightened level of introspection, particularly when grappling with memories of traumatic experiences that people otherwise find difficult to revisit.[36] This is unsurprising, given that up until it’s criminalisation in the U.S in 1985, MDMA was widely and successfully used by psychiatrists in counselling for individuals and couples, as well as being used to treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological disorders.[37] It seems that this hypothesis may have been again confirmed recently, in the first completed randomised, double-blind clinical trial to evaluate the therapeutic benefit of MDMA in treating patients with chronic PTSD persisting for an average of 19 years or more, whose PTSD has proven resistant to both psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatments.[38] According to the study, “Over 80% of the trial group no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, stipulated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV-TR) following the trial, compared to only 25% of the placebo group. In addition, all three subjects who reported being unable to work due to PTSD were able to return to work following treatment with MDMA.”[39] Since the success of this study, many more have been announced, testing the safety and efficacy of MDMA (usually combined with cognitive psychotherapy) as a treatment for things as diverse as PTSD, anxiety, trauma therapy for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and even autism.[40]

Despite the relative safety of MDMA, and the fact that in pure form it is impossible to accidentally overdose on, almost everyone can recite an anecdotal incident of someone dying after using pills sold as ‘ecstasy’ (implying that they contain the chemical MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine)). Indeed there are stories about accidental deaths from overdose of ‘ecstasy’ all the time. So How is this possible is MDMA is as safe as all the experts say that it is? Well, because it’s not MDMA that’s killing people. As far as I can tell from available data, the actual chemical MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine) has not been responsible for any recorded fatalities in Australia or the U.S. In almost all cases of ecstasy related deaths reported by the media, the culprit is not MDMA, but PMA (para-Methoxyamphetamine).  PMA vaguely mimics some of the effects of MDMA, so users will often mistakenly consume more of it, thinking it must be just be a weak batch of MDMA.[41] This often results in death, because unlike MDMA, PMA has an extremely low toxicity level, which can prove fatal to users, even at relatively low doses.[42] So why would anyone ever knowingly take PMA? They wouldn’t. Literally the only reason PMA is ever manufactured, and therefore the only reason that people are dying from taking PMA sold as ‘ecstasy’, is because governments have severely cracked down on the regulation of the precursors needed to make MDMA, making them extremely difficult to obtain, while leaving most PMA precursors readily available to any underground criminal chemist.[43] This is yet another example of how our policies are directly killing people. Every so called ‘ecstasy-related’ death in Australia is the product of our irresponsible policies under the War on Drugs, and again has absolutely nothing to do with the actual effects and dangers of these actual drugs themselves. Every leader in every major party knows that we have the solution to prevent 100% of ecstasy related deaths in this country, we just don’t have the political courage to implement it, so instead every year Australians will continue to lose brothers, sisters, children, and parents to entirely preventable deaths from cheap adulterants in pills drug dealers sell as ‘ecstasy’.

All of these negative consequences associated with drugs are either somewhat or completely alleviated by legalisation, regulation, and taxation. There are no more dangerous backyard meth labs, crack houses, heroin ghettos, or criminal syndicates under this sort of regime. No more consumers having to guess the dose of drugs they’ve purchased, or whether/which other substances have been added as adulterants to increase profits. Under a government administered legislative system rigorous health and safety standards, quality standards etc, dose restrictions, proof of age restrictions, and a range of other evidence based regulatory measures, it would presumably be a combination of existing pharmaceutical companies (like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck for example), and perhaps some small entrepreneurial upstart businesses who step up to the plate, to legally mass produce these drugs safely, manufacturing a product that is free of adulterants, has a precisely measured dose, and can be efficiently produced at very little cost. This is where tax comes in, as an essential tool. Many people agree that this may work to abolish the black market for marijuana, but may not work for other ‘harder’ drugs, if government were to in any way limit the amount of these drugs individuals were able to purchase. Once consumers had met their quota of legal drugs, wouldn’t at least some of them look for a black market for more?

This is true, but because the retail (or ‘street’) costs of illicit drugs are already exorbitantly inflated (because of the inherent built in cost of the risk assessment), legitimate, authorised, legal manufacturers, operating under the supervision of government regulators, would be able to more efficiently produce the same drugs at a far superior quality, for much less money than their illegal counterparts, while at the same time, having no need to artificially increase their prices according to the perceived risk of a police raid. Therefore, these legal drug companies would be able to sell these drugs at a considerable profit margin (let’s say for example, a 200% mark up on the cost of production), along with a 10 000% tax rate, and still in the case of most recreational drugs, provide the product for a mere fraction of the cost that an illegal, non-regulated supplier would have to charge. In short, in addition to being far cheaper than their illegal counterparts, the legally manufactured drugs would be of far superior quality, and therefore so desirable, that an illicit drug market could no longer compete, and would cease to exist. Instead of pouring $7.1 billion directly into tax-free black markets that fund violent organised criminal gangs, and spending just as much of our federal budget continuing to fight a losing war against psychoactive drugs that are more widely used in Australia today than at any time in our history, and incidentally, we are spending more per capita than any other country in the world today.[44] We can turn this multi-billion dollar fiscal disaster into a new multi-billion source of government tax revenue almost overnight. What’s more, not only would we be saving the Australian taxpayer tens of billions of dollars each year, it actually happens to be terrific policy, in terms of the outcomes that legalisation, taxation, and regulation would bring to our society (not to mention the potential contribution some of these currently illegal drugs can make to various fields of medicine like oncology, psychopharmacology and cognitive psychiatric therapy etc.). The evidence is already in, all we need now is the political will-power. Some of that money could then of course be allocated to evidence based programs which contribute to lowering rates of drug addiction and abuse, and alleviating the factors which cause it; poverty, lack of education, lack of access to meaningful participation in the legal economy and a living wage, and mental health problems.

 Andrew Smith is studying a Bachelor of Laws/Arts majoring in Politics at La Trobe University.


[1] Page 33 of ‘Government Drug Policy Expenditure in Australia – 2009/10’, June 2013, Alison Ritter, Ross McLeod and Marian Shanahan, The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW. To view the full report: http://www.dpmp.unsw.edu.au/DPMPWeb.nsf/resources/monograph1.pdf/$file/DPMP+MONO+24.pdf.

[2] Amy Corderoy, 22 Jun 2013, ‘Nation’s $7b Drug Splurge’, The Age, see http://www.theage.com.au/national/nations-7b-drug-splurge-20130621-2ooe3.html.

[3] Amy Corderoy, 22 Jun 2013, ‘Nation’s $7b Drug Splurge’, The Age, see http://www.theage.com.au/national/nations-7b-drug-splurge-20130621-2ooe3.html.

[4] Pages 33-39 of ‘Government Drug Policy Expenditure in Australia – 2009/10’, June 2013, Alison Ritter, Ross McLeod and Marian Shanahan, The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW. To view the full report: http://www.dpmp.unsw.edu.au/DPMPWeb.nsf/resources/monograph1.pdf/$file/DPMP+MONO+24.pdf.

[5] Pages 33-39 of ‘Government Drug Policy Expenditure in Australia – 2009/10’, June 2013, Alison Ritter, Ross McLeod and Marian Shanahan, The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW. To view the full report: http://www.dpmp.unsw.edu.au/DPMPWeb.nsf/resources/monograph1.pdf/$file/DPMP+MONO+24.pdf.

[6] David Simon, (journalist and creator the ‘The Wire’, in an interview featured in the documentary ‘The House I Live In’, 2013, with the film’s director Eugene Jarecki.

[8]Report of The Global Commission on Drug Policy, June 2011, United Nations Commission on Drug Policy, see http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/wp-content/themes/gcdp_v1/pdf/Global_Commission_Report_English.pdf.

[9] Breaking The Taboo (film), 2012.

[10] Kristen Gwynne, 26 Sep 2012, ‘Mexican Drug War Victims: U.S is Responsible’, Salon Magazine, see http://www.salon.com/2012/09/26/mexican_drug_war_victims_us_is_responsible/.

[11] Mica Rosenberg and Julian Cardona, 27 Dec 2011, Ten Thousand Dead and Counting: Ciudad Juarez, The Mexican City That’s Deadlier Than Afghanistan’, The National Post, see http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/12/27/ciudad-juarez-10000-killed-in-four-years-as-mexicos-toothless-war-on-drugs-goes-on/.

[12] Mica Rosenberg and Julian Cardona, 27 Dec 2011, Ten Thousand Dead and Counting: Ciudad Juarez, The Mexican City That’s Deadlier Than Afghanistan’, The National Post, see http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/12/27/ciudad-juarez-10000-killed-in-four-years-as-mexicos-toothless-war-on-drugs-goes-on/.

[13] Amy Corderoy, 22 Jun 2013, ‘Nation’s $7b Drug Splurge’, The Age, see http://www.theage.com.au/national/nations-7b-drug-splurge-20130621-2ooe3.html.

[14] Amy Corderoy, 22 Jun 2013, ‘Nation’s $7b Drug Splurge’, The Age, see http://www.theage.com.au/national/nations-7b-drug-splurge-20130621-2ooe3.html

[15] Cassie Byrnes, 29 Jun 2013, ‘Punching Cones as Easy as ABC for Aussie Teens’, The Punch, see http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/punching-cones-as-easy-as-abc-for-aussie-teens/.

[16] For just a few, thorough illustrations of the disproportionate drug arrest rates, see:
(A): Kenneth B. Nunn, 2002, ‘Race, Crime and the Pool of Surplus Criminality’, (also titled) ‘Why the ‘War on Drugs’ Was A ‘War on Backs’’, Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, to view report exerpt see: http://academic.udayton.edu/race/03justice/crime09.htm.
(B): David Cole (professor of Law at Georgetown University), Jul 2010, ‘Can Our Shameful Prisons Be Reformed?’, Georgetown Law Faculty Publications,  see: http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1378&context=facpub.
(C): ‘UNITED STATES Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs’, Human Rights Watch, 2000, see in particular chapter VII. ‘Racially Disproportionate Drug Arrests’. For Full report, see: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/usa/index.htm#TopOfPage. For chapter VII, see: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/usa/Rcedrg00-05.htm.

[17] See above reports, and Ryan S. King and Marc Mauer, ‘Distorted Priorities: Drug Offenders in State Prisons’, Sep 2002, report published by The Sentencing Project, see: http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/dp_distortedpriorities.pdf.

[18] Amy Corderoy, 22 Jun 2013, ‘Nation’s $7b Drug Splurge’, The Age, see http://www.theage.com.au/national/nations-7b-drug-splurge-20130621-2ooe3.html.

[19] For report on the bust, see: ‘Police Seize Australia’s Biggest Ever Ice Haul’, 28 Feb 2013, ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-28/police-seize-australia27s-biggest-ever-ice-haul/4544306.

[20] Mike Pottenger, 1 Mar 2013, ‘Ice Ice Baby: Record Seizure Won’t Freeze Crystal Meth Market’, The Conversation, see http://theconversation.com/ice-ice-baby-record-seizure-wont-freeze-crystal-meth-market-12524.

[21]Police Seize Australia’s Biggest Ever Ice Haul’, 28 Feb 2013, ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-28/police-seize-australia27s-biggest-ever-ice-haul/4544306.

[22] Ilya Gridneff, 28 Feb 2013, ‘Record Ice Bust: 585 Kilograms Seized in Sydney After Tip-Off’, Sydney Morning Herald, see: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/record-ice-bust-585-kilograms-seized-in-sydney-after-tipoff-20130228-2f74s.html.

[23] Source: Transcript of Lateline report ‘Alcohol Costs Australia $36 billion/year: Report’, 23 August 2010, see: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2010/s2991299.htm.
See also government report on alcohol related violence – see: Summary Paper ‘Key Issues in Alcohol-Related Violence’, Dec 2009, Australian Government – Australian Institute of Criminology: http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/A/8/C/%7bA8CA2B96-4BE6-4B79-A61D-8408081903BA%7drip04_001.pdf.

[24] For government briefing/report on drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault (which substantiates alcohol as the most popular drug of choice for substance-assisted sexual-assaults), see: Alexandra Neame, 2 Nov 2003, ‘Briefing: Beyond “Drink Spiking” – Drug and Alcohol Facilitated Sexual Assault’, Australian Centre for The Study of Sexual Assault – Australian Institute of Family Studies, see: http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/pubs/briefing/acssa_briefing2.pdf.
For list of alcohol related diseases and other alcohol guidelines, see: ‘Alcohol and Health in Australia’, 2011, National Heath and Medical Research Council – Australian Government, see: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/alcohol-guidelines/alcohol-and-health-australia.

[25] Robert S. Gable, ‘The Toxicity of Recreational Drugs’, 2006, reprint from American Scientist (the magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society), see: http://www.americanscientist.org/libraries/documents/200645104835_307.pdf.

[26] Robert S. Gable, ‘The Toxicity of Recreational Drugs’, 2006, reprint from American Scientist (the magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society), see: http://www.americanscientist.org/libraries/documents/200645104835_307.pdf.

[27] Robert S. Gable, ‘The Toxicity of Recreational Drugs’, 2006, reprint from American Scientist (the magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society), see: http://www.americanscientist.org/libraries/documents/200645104835_307.pdf.

[28] Robert S. Gable, ‘The Toxicity of Recreational Drugs’, 2006, reprint from American Scientist (the magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society), see: http://www.americanscientist.org/libraries/documents/200645104835_307.pdf.

[29] For a report containing an independent expert assessment comparing the differing level of actual risk associated with effects of various legal and illegal drugs with potential for recreational use and misuse (an extract of which is cited on page 12 of the Report of The Global Commission on Drug Policy), which independently ranks ‘ecstasy’ as far less dangerous than alcohol, see: David Nutt, Leslie A King, William Saulsbury and Colin Blakemore, ‘Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse’, 2007, Lancet, Vol. 369 (9566), see http://dobrochan.ru/src/pdf/1109/lancetnorway.pdf.

[30] David Nutt, Leslie A King, William Saulsbury and Colin Blakemore, ‘Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse’, 2007, Lancet, Vol. 369 (9566), see http://dobrochan.ru/src/pdf/1109/lancetnorway.pdf.

[31] Michael C Mithoefer, Mark T Wagner, Ann T Nithoefer, Lisa Jerome and Rick Doblin, ‘The Safety and Efficacy of +3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Subjects with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The First Randomized Controlled Pilot Study’, April 2011, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford England), (study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in California), full study and findings viewed through the website of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122379/.
Simon N. Young, ‘How to Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain Without Drugs’, Nov 2007, published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, The US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/.

[32] Michael C Mithoefer, Mark T Wagner, Ann T Nithoefer, Lisa Jerome and Rick Doblin, ‘The Safety and Efficacy of +3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Subjects with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The First Randomized Controlled Pilot Study’, April 2011, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford England), (study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in California), full study and findings viewed through the website of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122379/.
Simon N. Young, ‘How to Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain Without Drugs’, Nov 2007, published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, The US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/.

[33] Jose Carlos Bouso B.Sc, Rick Doblin Ph.D., Magi Farre M.D. Ph.D., Miguel Angel Alcazar Ph.D. & Gregorio Gomez-Jarabo Ph.D., 2008, ‘MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Using Low Doses in a Small Sample of Women with Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)’, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, study conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), see: http://www.maps.org/mdma/spain_MDMA_JOPD.pdf.

[34] For a basic introduction to the effects of MDMA on the human body, see this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_MDMA_on_the_human_body.

[35] Michael C Mithoefer, Mark T Wagner, Ann T Nithoefer, Lisa Jerome and Rick Doblin, ‘The Safety and Efficacy of +3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Subjects with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The First Randomized Controlled Pilot Study’, April 2011, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford England), (study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in California), full study and findings viewed through the website of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122379/.

See also: Jose Carlos Bouso B.Sc, Rick Doblin Ph.D., Magi Farre M.D. Ph.D., Miguel Angel Alcazar Ph.D. & Gregorio Gomez-Jarabo Ph.D., 2008, ‘MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Using Low Doses in a Small Sample of Women with Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)’, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, study conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), see: http://www.maps.org/mdma/spain_MDMA_JOPD.pdf.

[36] Michael C Mithoefer, Mark T Wagner, Ann T Nithoefer, Lisa Jerome and Rick Doblin, ‘The Safety and Efficacy of +3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Subjects with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The First Randomized Controlled Pilot Study’, April 2011, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford England), (study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in California), full study and findings viewed through the website of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122379/.

[37] Marsha Rosenbaum & Rick Doblin, extract from ‘The Drug Legalization Debate’ (1991), edited by James A. Inciardi, chapter/article titled ‘Why MDMA Should Not Have Been Made Illegal’, to view extracted chapter see: http://www.psychedelic-library.org/rosenbaum.htm.

[38] Michael C Mithoefer, Mark T Wagner, Ann T Nithoefer, Lisa Jerome and Rick Doblin, ‘The Safety and Efficacy of +3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Subjects with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The First Randomized Controlled Pilot Study’, April 2011, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford England), (study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in California), full study and findings viewed through the website of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122379/.

[39] SAGE Publications UK (2010, July 20). ‘MDMA (Ecstasy)-Assisted Psychotherapy Relieves Treatment-Resistant

PTSD, Study Suggests’, see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100719082927.htm. For full study see: Michael C Mithoefer, Mark T Wagner, Ann T Nithoefer, Lisa Jerome and Rick Doblin, ‘The Safety and Efficacy of +3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Subjects with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The First Randomized Controlled Pilot Study’, April 2011, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford England), (study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in California), full study and findings viewed through the website of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122379/.

[40] For a couple of examples, see:
(a):Michael C Mithoefer, Mark T Wagner, Ann T Nithoefer, Lisa Jerome and Rick Doblin, ‘The Safety and Efficacy of +3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-Assisted Psychotherapy in Subjects with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The First Randomized Controlled Pilot Study’, April 2011, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford England), (study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in California), full study and findings viewed through the website of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, administered by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122379/;
(b) Jose Carlos Bouso B.Sc, Rick Doblin Ph.D., Magi Farre M.D. Ph.D., Miguel Angel Alcazar Ph.D. & Gregorio Gomez-Jarabo Ph.D., 2008, ‘MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Using Low Doses in a Small Sample of Women with Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)’, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, study conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), see: http://www.maps.org/mdma/spain_MDMA_JOPD.pdf;
(c) Marsha Rosenbaum & Rick Doblin, extract from ‘The Drug Legalization Debate’ (1991), edited by James A. Inciardi, chapter/article titled ‘Why MDMA Should Not Have Been Made Illegal’, to view extracted chapter see: http://www.psychedelic-library.org/rosenbaum.htm.

[41] Dams R, De Letter EA, Mortier KA, Cordonnier JA, Lambert WE, Piette MH, Van Calenbergh S, De Leenheer AP. ‘Fatality Due to Combined Use of the Designer Drugs MDMA and PMA: A Distribution Study’ Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 2003 Jul-Aug, see: http://jat.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/5/318.full.pdf.

[42] Teri L. Martin, ‘Three Cases of Fatal Paramethoxyamphetamine Overdose’, Oct 2001, published in The Journal of Analytical Toxicology Vol 25, see: http://jat.oxfordjournals.org/content/25/7/649.full.pdf.

[43] Dieter Waumans, Noel Bruneel and Jan Tytgat, ‘Anise Oil as a Para-Methoxyamphetamine (PMA)Precursor’, 2003, published in Forensic Science International, see: http://chemistry.mdma.ch/hiveboard/rhodium/pdf/forensic/anethole.pma.precursor.pdf.

[44]For the claim that illegal drugs are more widely used than ever before in Australia, see: Amy Corderoy, 22 Jun 2013, ‘Nation’s $7b Drug Splurge’, The Age, see http://www.theage.com.au/national/nations-7b-drug-splurge-20130621-2ooe3.html.
For evidence that we spend more per capita on illegal drugs than any other country in the world, see: Paul Toohey, ‘Aussies the Biggest Recreational Drug Users in the World’, 27 Jun 2012, report published on news.com.au, see: http://www.news.com.au/national-news/aussies-the-biggest-recreational-drug-users-in-the-world-report/story-e6frfkvr-1226409745235.
For further evidence (The U.N report cited in the above story), see: The official  U.N report – ‘The 2012 World Drug Report’, (2012), The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Nations, see: http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/WDR2012/WDR_2012_web_small.pdf.

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