Debate on the War on Drugs continues, but why has it become such an important topic and more importantly, where is it heading?
The argument currently surrounds the fact that nearly all drugs are illegal and questions whether or not they should be decriminalised. This has become clearly a wide ranging issue with many people and multiple positions being taken. But whatâ€™s more, as these are being made better known, views are beginning to change.
Is this because society is changing, becoming more informed or is there a bigger picture at play here?
Its history is this: Before 2011 media broadly only covered stories on crime associated with drugs, sensationalist stories of those who had died by their usage and regular, and sometimes contradictory, medical research conducted on their societal and health impacts.
But the debate gained momentum when a global report on drugs issued in June 2011 stated that the 40 year international â€˜War on Drugsâ€™ had been a failure. This was brought closer to home earlier this year when 24 notable Australians involved in the subject, including Foreign Minister Bob Carr, called for illegal drug law reform. The debate went up a notch when Prime Minister Julia Gillard was quoted as not agreeing with it.
Portugalâ€™s success in reducing drug usage through decriminalisation, Columbiaâ€™s recent consideration to do the same and the ongoing gang warfare which has so far killed thousands in Mexico also drew further attention to the issue.
Fairfax media has since ramped up the issue in Australia by holding forums, publishing articles, casting polls, sourcing opinions and highlighting its ongoing discussion by documenting societyâ€™s view of these.
Like most of what we take in from the media, usually only a fraction of the full picture is identified in any one story, yet semi-consciously and repetitively consumed as the only point. But extension of this debate has brought out more information, which has refined, and in some cases, changed peopleâ€™s opinions.
It has been roughly estimated to cost Australia $5 billion a year on drug law enforcement. The black market value of the illicit drug trade is estimated to be worth $6 billion a year. Health costs of drug abuse are unknown, as often there is a range of contributing and complex lifestyle factors associated with this, as noticed by the medical sector.
But these known costs are multi-billion dollars. There is a growing group of decriminalisation advocates who say they would like to see this money spent on health drug prevention strategies, addiction research, analysis and treatment. That if, similar to the Netherlands, drugs were regulated, the Government could tax them and use this money to offset their harms.
While many see this as the best course of action, there are some who are adamantly opposed to decriminalisation, concerned that drugs would become more accessible to those who are vulnerable to addiction and their abuse.
While Portugal and the Netherlands provide the best examples of this not being the case, there are those who have experienced loved ones fall to drug abuse who believe the only way forward is to not provide the temptation in the first place.
So this brings the debate to the ultimate question. What is the purpose of having this debate? Are drugs are as detrimental to usersâ€™ mental and physical health as most research says? Do we need to spend more money and resources in resolving this and are they currently being wasted in areas which are not improving this? Will decriminalisation, regulation or legalisation improve understanding and solution to why drugs are taken in the first place and why addiction prevails? Are we prepared to let the genie out of the bottle on this by asking the bigger questions that may challenge our whole contemporary lifestyle and culture? Or will it get to the point where people simply lose topical interest in the subject or questions get into the too hard basket?
The question of decriminalisation is only the first step in this debate – surely any questioning has to be cognizant of asking how society and its members can be in a better place and live a better life.
Have your sayâ€¦