Buying drugs online: Australian lawyers ‘radical proposal’ to decriminalise drugs

cannabis plant image www.druglinks.info

The The NSW Bar Association’s criminal law committee says existing laws aimed at curbing illicit drug use and supply are not working.

A teenager on Sydney’s northern beaches orders cocaine online and has it posted to their front door. It is just one of the signs that existing drug laws have “substantially failed”, according to top criminal barristers in NSW.

The NSW Bar Association’s criminal law committee, chaired by Sydney barrister Stephen Odgers SC, has put forward a “radical proposal” to replace the black market for drugs with a highly-regulated system of legal availability.

The committee says existing laws aimed at curbing illicit drug use and supply are not working and are resulting in “considerable” harm including an unregulated black market, drug overdoses, and crimes such as prostitution and armed robbery that are committed to pay for drugs.

It says its preliminary view, subject to further research and consultation, is that the current prohibitionist approach to drugs should be abandoned and replaced with a tightly-regulated system where drugs are legally available.

The system might involve licensing controls on the production and supply of drugs, along with price regulation and comprehensive services for treating drug addiction. A ban on private trafficking, supply to children and advertising was also flagged by the committee.

The committee is made up of heavy-hitters who both prosecute and defend people accused of drug-related crimes, including former Director of Public Prosecutions Nick Cowdery QC, and highly respected silks Tim Game, John Stratton, and Gaby Bashir.

It wants the community to engage in an informed debate about drug law reform, as the state government comes under increasing pressure to convene a drug summit to tackle the issues. The Bar Association will also hold a conference on drug law reform on May 29.

The committee says it has seen the harm caused by the use of illicit drugs, but “we have also seen the harm that is caused by the current prohibitionist model with its heavy reliance on the criminal law to deter drug use”.

It says the law has been “largely ineffective” at preventing the use or availability of illicit drugs and is “is now struggling to keep pace with synthetic drugs, the internet drug trade and the illicit use of pharmaceutical drugs”.

The paper cites a 2010 study showing that almost 15 per cent of Australians over 14 had used illicit drugs in the last year, and 27.5 per cent of those aged between 20 and 29. Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug in the country, followed by ecstasy, while the use of heroin and cocaine was still relatively low.

Alcohol, meanwhile, is the most widely used lawful drug in Australia. The committee said the total social costs arising from the frequent use of alcohol was “comparable” to the frequent use of illicit drugs, while the total social costs arising from the frequent use of tobacco “substantially outweigh” those associated with illicit drugs.

The views expressed in the discussion paper do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bar Association as a whole, which has yet to form a view on the issue.

The call for a drug summit comes as the NSW government funds three trials for the medical use of cannabis.

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Henry Sapiecha

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