By David Crawshaw
June 05, 2006
THE nation's anti-drug policies have failed because they focus too heavily on prosecuting users rather than catching dealers, an inquiry has been told.
The parliamentary joint committee on the Australian Crime Commission, headed by Liberal senator Ian Macdonald, is inquiring into amphetamines and other synthetic drugs.
The inquiry has been told the Federal Government's "tough on drugs" stance has had little effect on drug use, and Australia now has the highest rate of amphetamine use in the world.
Andrew Macintosh, deputy director of left wing think-tank the Australia Institute, told the committee drug policies focused too heavily on law enforcement and failed to recognise addiction as a health problem rather than a criminal one.
He said police were wasting time and resources raiding dance parties to prosecute teenagers carrying small amounts of recreational drugs.
"Why do we keep putting more and more resources into law enforcement when we know they're not getting us very far?" Mr Macintosh told the inquiry.
"Behaviour will not change significantly as a result of law enforcement.
"The nucleus of drug strategy must be prevention and treatment programs rather than law enforcement.
"At the moment, around 80 per cent of government resources are spent on law enforcement (and) most of this is tied up in chasing down drug users rather than suppliers."
Australia should consider decriminalising, but not legalising, possession offences for softer drugs such as cannabis, he said.
Evidence showed this would free up police resources and ease the social impact of drug use but would not lead to an increase in the number of people using drugs.
"If we kept supply-side drug law enforcement and went to say, a decriminalised scheme (for drug use), I don't think you'd see any noticeable change in the patterns of cannabis use," Mr McIntosh said.
"The evidence on that is really quite strong."
He said the Netherlands had only a "mid-range" incidence of cannabis use compared with other European countries, notwithstanding the fact it did not prosecute minor drug offences.
Family and Friends for Drug Law Reform president Brian McConnell told the hearing existing drug education programs in schools were ineffective and some were "a waste of money".
"You need to provide factual information to the kids, not hype and exaggeration," he said.
"If you say to a kid, 'You smoke cannabis and you'll get psychotic or you'll get schizophrenia', the kid will know someone who is using cannabis and has never been psychotic or schizophrenic. And so it puts the lie to the education."
The hearing continues.