Criminal Law

By Kate Gunther


Treating drug users as the enemy: The difficulty with waging the “war on drugs”

You may have heard three people recently died and many were hospitalised in a critical condition due to a “bad batch” of MDMA in Melbourne (see: Consequently our government remains as committed as ever to the “war on drugs.”

The war on drugs takes a hard-line against drug manufacturers, dealers and users with harsh penalties attached to drug related offences. While getting drugs off the streets and decreasing the number of users is undoubtedly ideal, our approach appears to be ineffective.

Convicted drug traffickers and users (that is; people in possession of drugs) are often sentenced to full-time imprisonment. If this occurs they are taken to places that have an atmosphere almost as pleasant as Azkaban (think of being locked up in a place which exudes misery because there are creatures roaming around sucking out your soul). Despite the potential for this horrible fate, drug use remains prevalent within our society. It is no mystery that drug traffickers risk prison for significant financial advantage but it seems strange that drug users, with less to gain, are likewise not deterred from offending.

So why don’t harsh penalties work to deter users (as opposed to drug traffickers)? Well, you might say this is because many users are junkies who are physically addicted to the chemicals within drugs. This belief may also justify our current method of locking them up in some dank dark place like Azkaban since they have little hope of “getting off the gear” anyway.

However, the short youtube video “addiction” explains drug use as a coping mechanism rather than a physical addiction to chemicals (see: If drugs are being used to deal with otherwise unbearable circumstances in a person’s life, rather than to satisfy a chemical addiction, sending drug users to prison is possibly the most counter-productive response possible. Taking a person already so discontent with life that they need to be high to cope, relocating that person to prison, and branding them with a life-long “ex-con” stigma seems like a steadfast way to ensure they continue to use drugs into the future. Instead of condemnation, drug users should be offered help to enjoy life without substances.

Perhaps, for once in human history, society should opt for compassion over war.