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15 August 2014


Time for a truce in the war on drugs at last?

We are ensuring that the war on drugs is fought as fiercely as we humanly can. It's not a war we will ever finally win. The war on drugs is a war you can lose – you may not ever win it, but you’ve always got to fight it. 
Mr Tony Abbott, Prime Minister, Australia, 29 April 2014
Recent headline stories about drug-related murders in Sydney may be seen by some as signalling the need for an even tougher response to drugs. In reality they are a sad reminder of the unintended and often devastating consequences of criminalising drug use. 

Australia21 Director, Dr Alex Wodak AM, argues in a recent article in the ANZ Journal of Criminology that evidence over the last 50 years indicates it's time to stop the fight and address the real health and social issues associated with drug use. The Abstract is provided below and you can read the full article at
Abstract: For more than 50 years, like most other countries Australian drug policy relied heavily on law enforcement: politicians emphasised criminal justice measures and the overwhelming majority of government expenditure in response to drugs was allocated to drug law enforcement.

Yet during the last half-century, drug markets expanded and became more dangerous. Even worse, deaths, disease, crime, corruption and violence increased substantially. Evidence that supply control is effective is scant yet there is abundant evidence of its serious adverse effects.

The limited data available show that drug law enforcement is not cost-effective. However, ample data confirm that drug treatment and harm reduction are effective and cost-effective. Although the heroin shortage in Australia since 2000 is one of the most pronounced and protracted decreases in heroin supply worldwide, there is little evidence that Australian drug law enforcement contributed significantly. International leaders declare increasingly that the international drug control system has failed comprehensively. For many producer and transit countries, the cost of drug prohibition has been devastating.

The academic debate about drug policy is now largely over. A number of countries have begun searching for politically feasible alternatives. Whether it is fair and just for the majority of a community to punish those with a minority taste in drugs is the most fundamental question in drug policy and the case for doing so is weak. Drug prohibition has proved to be an expensive way of making a bad problem worse: its major success has been as a political strategy.
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