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Numbers don’t lie in drug war

FOR seven years, he was Australia’s general in the war on drugs, commandeering some of the largest seizures in the nation’s history.

But Mick Palmer, Australian Federal Police commissioner from 1994 to 2001, has had an unlikely conversion.

The war has been lost, he says, hopelessly mired in politics and a skewed public perception about the type of person that uses recreational drugs.

The numbers don’t lie. In Australia last year, 86 per cent of drug users said obtaining heroin was “easy’’ or “very easy’’, while 93 per cent reported that obtaining hydroponic cannabis was “easy’’ or “very easy’’.

The price of street heroin and cocaine decreased by more than 80 per cent in the US and Europe in the past 20 years.

And more than one in three Australians over 14 have used cannabis in their lifetime, while 15 per cent of12-to-17-year-olds have tried the drug.

Smoking marijuana is so commonplace it has almost become a rite of passage.

Yet the law treats all drug users the same – as serious criminals.

And that’s the rub for Mr Palmer.

He believes the demonisation and criminalisation of recreational drug users is compounding the problem.

The price of youthful experimentation can be unforgiving.

A criminal conviction can change the trajectory of a young person’s life, closing doors and stripping self-esteem.

By outlawing recreational drugs, we also force users to have contact with dealers and make it less likely they will approach their parents or their GP if they start sliding into the grip of addiction.

It all adds up to one inconvenient truth: our current punitive approach is failing.

Police resources should be funnelled not into chasing users, but on large-scale dealers.

The money saved could be spent on drug education and health.

If the medical marijuana debate has taught us anything, it has been to critically examine age-old perceptions about drugs and notice the shades of grey.

Drug use is dangerous.

Our ultimate goal should always be to reduce its prevalence.

But that won’t happen until we look at the issue with fresh eyes and a courageous heart.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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