I have used drugs and that is why I am coming forward to tell my story. I am a lawyer and my drug use has no connection with my job. It is a choice I have made.
I have had some positive experience with drugs, and of course some bad ones. I have had marijuana and laughed a great deal, but also experienced paranoia and anxiety. I have also had both good and bad experiences with hallucinogens and other drugs.
But in no way do I advocate that others should use drugs. I believe that using drugs should be a person’s own choice – whether they take traditionally legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, or illicit ones, such as ecstasy, cocaine or marijuana.
I believe strongly that this choice should not be made by governments, but that people should be able to make their own, informed, choices.
How can people make an informed choice when drugs cannot be discussed openly, when drugs are demonised and prohibited?
We must discuss drugs openly and bring them into a regulated market so people can be educated to their dangers.
Tobacco use has halved in the past 20 years, not because tobacco was made illegal, but because it is regulated. Tobacco is sold with warning labels and people are educated in school about its dangers.
All drugs are dangerous - the legal ones and the illegal ones. But many things are dangerous: gambling, eating fast food and even driving a car. A society should not prohibit these inherently risky activities. Instead, we need to make laws to regulate them; for example, with driving, we force people to obtain a licence and drive at certain speeds.
So too with drug use. We should have a regulated system in which certain drug-related activities are prohibited, such as drug use in public, or drug use that would affect one’s capacity to work, or that could cause harm to others.
But I believe that taking drugs in one’s home or in certain designated places should be legalised and regulated by the government, as is happening now in parts of Europe and America.
Once drugs are legalised, the government will be taking the manufacture and supply out of the hands of drug dealers and criminals.
Drugs will be safer – not mixed with unknown substances. People would be able to see on a label what they are taking.
People could ask professionals what dosage was safest for them and be warned of the health dangers associated with each drug.
If they wish to use those drugs at home, with that knowledge, how can we as a modern society say no?
How can we as a society tell a user, "if you want to take drugs you must buy from a drug dealer and risk your life by taking something that you have no real clue is what you thought it was"?
That, I think, is a failure of prohibition, and our society should be ashamed of every tragic drug death, be it of a heroin addict in an ally way or a partygoer at a festival.
Nearly all drug deaths result from the problems caused by prohibition.
Economically, ending prohibition would be smart for society, too. The drug market is estimated to be $17 billion a year in Australia – and none of this is taxed.
The money goes into the hands of criminals, and society never sees a cent.
The government also spends about $2 billion a year policing the drug laws. The courts are filled with about 80,000 drug cases a year, most for possession of small quantities of cannabis. Not only is it a waste of money, but it criminalises young people and potentially destroys their lives.
Being a lawyer, I could have faced sanction for my own drug use, which could have prevented me from working in my field. However, I feel it is worth the risk to advocate for something I believe in and I use my skills to assist people who need legal help.
I know many doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and others who have taken drugs; most have been lucky not to have been caught but they have risked their careers and futures. One person I know could not follow his dream of being a paramedic because of a small drug-possession charge.
All of these people provide a service and benefit to society and we are better off because of them; they are not criminals, and they should never risk criminality for the choice of drug they ingest.
I do not use any drugs (legal or illegal) regularly.
I think that addiction and overuse of any drug is very dangerous and a bad thing.
I believe that drugs should be taken responsibly and with the user educated to the dangers so he or she can make an informed choice. A regulated supply would also make drugs safer for users and allow society to deal with this issue in a pragmatic way.
Drug use is up – people are taking more drugs than ever – and the policy of prohibition is a failure.
I think the demonisation of drug users has meant the drug problem is never openly discussed. The solution is to bring drug use into the open so we can have a collective and honest discussion.
The author is involved with a Drug Law Reform group called Unharm, which aims to promote harm minimisation in drug policy.
14 April 2014
Sydney Morning Herald
Prohibit prohibition: Miles Hunt. Photo: Ben Rushton
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