Criminal Law

By Kate Gunther


Why the world needs to change its attitude toward drugs


“The old way of doing things is the wrong way … If something is not working for more than 40 years, logic and common sense tell you that it must be changed or it must be.”

Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia

So says Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia, on the world’s attitude toward drugs. This is the leader of a country that has been repeatedly torn apart by narcotics, so he’s worth listening to. The recent statistics for meth use in Australia (we are second only to Slovakia) show that not only is the war on drugs failing, but that the world collectively needs to change its opinion on them. Here’s why.

Fewer deaths and better lives

A record 29 million people suffer from drug use disorders worldwide, and around 200,000 drug-related deaths are reported each year, according to a recent United Nations report. This is evidence enough that a stance of prosecution and prohibition is not working. People need to start seeing drug abuse as a condition, not something to be disparaged or put down as “their own fault.” Only then will proper treatment be in place for those that have become addicted to narcotics.

The majority of people in the world aren’t drug addicts, however. Many people take stimulants recreationally, maybe only a few times a year, and have no dependency on them. Yet, we frequently hear about deaths of people, often very young, who’ve taken a bad pill or had too many. In March, for instance, two men were described as being “cooked from the inside” after taking a bad batch of drugs, while 25 people were treated at a Melbourne music festival in February for overdoses of a synthetic drug, according to The Guardian.

DrugWise is a UK organisation that argues that a “just say no” or shock and scare tactic in drug education simply isn’t working. If people were better educated about how to take drugs, instead of being taught only abstinence, we might help to avoid these tragedies.

One institution which has recently taken steps in the right direction is Newcastle University in the north of England. Accepting that many of its students are going to take drugs no matter what its policy is, the university decided to soften its zero-tolerance stance, and instead make sure students are taking their drugs safely. They now sell GB£3 (just over $5) testing kits so students can find out exactly what’s in the narcotics they’re using.

Countries no longer torn apart

If governments were to legalise or decriminalise certain drugs, it would take exclusive control away from the gangs who currently dominate the world’s drug trade. Central and South America are perfect examples of how the crackdown and persecution of the drug trade isn’t working. Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala in particular spend millions of dollars on efforts to stem the drug trade, all to no avail.

Not only is this “war on drugs” mentality not producing any results, that money could be spent on solving some of these countries’ other problems (many of which are themselves caused by the illegal drug trade). Legalising certain narcotics would also open them up to be taxed, raising additional sources of income.

Portugal prospers

Portugal is the best example of a country that has changed its attitude toward drugs, and seen extremely positive outcomes from this. It decriminalised all drugs in 2001 – now people are hit with a small fine if they’re caught with them, and potentially referral to a treatment centre. Drug use in Portugal is now lower than it was in 2001, according to a study by the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF).

Just before drugs were decriminalised, Portugal was in the midst of a public health crisis, with record levels of HIV and AIDS. The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases among people who inject drugs has fallen from 1,016 to 56 between 2001 and 2012, while new cases of AIDS in people who inject drugs decreased from 568 to 38, as reported by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Portugal is a real-life example of a country that has seen positive results as a due to changing its drug laws. If these new attitudes were applied to the world as a whole, we might be in a much better place than we currently are. For advice on drug-related charges, Ben Aulich are here to help.