There’s an argument for licensing ‘party’ drugs in Canberra

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Commentator JOHN PAUL ROMANO sees a future for licensing “party” drugs – but not all drugs – in the ACT.  

IS what happens behind closed doors a matter for the government or not? Is personal drug use a criminal matter or a health matter? 

John-Paul Romano.

These are the questions politicians, police officers, scientists and doctors have been discussing over recent months to make an imminent decision on a fight largely fuelled by our allies in the US, that has been raging for more than 50 years.

Addiction is a substantial problem, not just in Canberra or nationally, but throughout the world. Ironically, globally, addiction fuels millions of jobs and trillions of dollars of legal business, through caffeine, pornography, alcohol, and tobacco.

Mankind has made it clear that when a substance is prohibited or made hard to obtain; someone will find a way to supply or sell it, this was made abundantly clear during the alcohol prohibitions of the early 20th century. Although in the past three months, we have seen some incredible steps across the world to end the way we look at illicit drugs.

Firstly, during the presidential election in the US, we saw several states conduct ballots where citizens voted to legalise cannabis sale, supply and use; we also saw some states that had already legalised cannabis vote to legalise psychedelic mushrooms, and finally, the state of Oregon, which has decriminalised most drugs. These public votes were a huge step forward from a mostly conservative country.

Secondly, in August local Labor Legislative Assembly politician Michael Peterson moved a motion to take steps towards further drug decriminalisation in the ACT. Surprisingly, his motion received mostly tri-partisan support. On Monday (December 14), Mr Peterson and the Greens both made known their intention for further drug reform to take place in the new assembly. With the numbers held by Labor and the Greens, one would suspect any motion would pass with or without the Liberals’ support.

Since the US election, in discussions with various individuals and politicos, I have found relatively broad support for the decriminalisation of cocaine, psychedelic mushrooms, and “party drugs” (LSD and MDMA).

However, there is an appetite to not support the decriminalisation of heroin and methamphetamine (“ice”) because of the significant harm those drugs do to the community. 

Nevertheless, one must remember that our government already provides clean needles and safe-injecting rooms to the community, and coupled with pill testing, is a part of a harm minimisation approach generally lauded by medical and scientific communities.

A variety of views also exist within our community, these include;

Harm minimisation perspective – It suggests drugs are a health problem and not a criminal issue; it concedes people are going to take drugs and should make it as safe as possible to do so.

Liberal (by definition) perspective – Suggests people are going to take drugs, so we should legalise them and let people do what they want. This was a popular point of view during the 1970s.

Economic perspective – Suggests society could profit from the sale of drugs and the tourism associated with them, and suggests the economic benefit outweighs the cost to the community. This thought uses Amsterdam and California, and even the ACT’s view towards X-rated movies, fireworks, and prostitution as examples.

Natural perspective – Suggests illicit drugs derived directly from nature, such as cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms should be legalised, but other lab-produced drugs should not.

Conservative perspective – Suggests no drugs should be decriminalised or legalised. It suggests that drug use is a criminal matter for the police, not a health matter and that the government should not condone or assist drug use in any way.

All of these views exist within our community, and none of them is correct or incorrect, but I believe it’s time to discuss which point of view is going to lead our thinking into the future. Especially now that moderate Liberal Elizabeth Lee is parliamentary leader of the Canberra Liberals. It will be very interesting to see what the ultimate view of the party is.

It has long been said that because of the ACT’s high median income, we have a disproportionately high usage of drugs. However, I want to make clear that there is no doubt that drug addiction (of any kind) can cause significant harm to society, individuals and families.

In a world where a country needs to recover from the economic effects of a global pandemic, I would hope and expect to see the approval of licensed commercial growing of cannabis and even a reduction on local tobacco production tariffs, which could fuel a rise in international export dollars for Australia.

Finally, imagine the ACT being a destination for “weed tourism” where drugs are not dispensed by underground dealers but by licensed and taxed dispensaries, who have to undertake training or even by pharmacies; imagine party drugs being produced by big pharmaceutical companies and their scientists, rather than in someone’s back shed with chemicals bought from the local hardware store. Imagine having doctors certify an individual’s wellbeing before being able to purchase these drugs. 

This is a future I would like to see in our territory, and I am sure many others would, too. While federal law would need to change to allow this to happen, I and many others, especially young people, are confident we will see it in years to come.

John-Paul Romano is a local businessman, advocate, and commentator. Twitter: @johnpauldromano

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