Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

committed to preventing tragedy that arises from illicit drug use


There are naysayers who believe a global fight against illegal drugs is unwinnable. I say emphatically they are wrong. Our slogan for the Special Session is "A Drug Free World - We Can Do It!" The United Nations and the International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) will help lead the way. - Towards a drug-free world by 2008 - we can do itUN Chronicle,  Summer, 1998  by Pino Arlacchi (United Nations Under-Secretary-General)

I accept that any policy change involves risk, but so does burying one's head in the sand. John Hyde, senior Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, Sept 2001

MARY COWLEY: You know, we've got a lot of dry communities around at the moment and what we're seeing is more alcohol in dry communities, than that of controlled.

ANNE BARKER: So does that suggest it doesn't work?

MARY COWLEY: I'm saying that yeah, to me it has never worked.

TONY EASTLEY: Mary Cowley from the West Australian Department of Indigenous Affairs, ending Anne Barker's report.

AM (ABC Radio) - Tuesday, 28 September , 2004  08:12:00, Alcohol summit reassesses prohibition strategy

"The system [of criminal drug prohibition] is not working but [this] is not being debated at the UN; it is a taboo," said NEF member Sir Keith Morris, a former British ambassador to Colombia.

the UN must "change its approach from repressive law enforcement" to one of harm reduction. ... "The United Nations in 1998 set itself the aim of a drug free world by 2008," he said. "We are halfway down the road to 2008 and there are more drugs than ever. So much for the idea we have made progress". Former Interpol Secretary General Raymond Kendall.

UN Vienna March 2004

Availability of cocaine, heroin and cannabis depends on the level of cultivation in source countries and on the success or failure of trafficking organizations. However, even with increased levels of law enforcement activities, there always seems to be enough drugs available to users.

Use of psychoactive substances is to be expected because of their pleasurable effects as well as peer pressure and the social context of their use. Experimentation does not necessarily lead to dependence but the greater the frequency and amount of substance used, the higher the risk of becoming dependent.

Substance dependence is not a failure of will or of strength of character but a medical disorder that could affect any human being. Dependence is a chronic and relapsing disorder, often co-occurring with other physical and mental conditions.

One of the main barriers to treatment and care of people with substance dependence and related problems is the stigma and discrimination against them. Regardless of the level of substance use and which substance an individual takes, they have the same rights to health, education, work opportunities and reintegration into society, as does any other individual.

Neuroscience of psychoactive substance use and dependence, World Health Organization 2004

Prohibition is a simple, populist answer to a complex problem and for this reason, holds political attraction. Clothing it in a moral dimension places it beyond rational argument and analysis.

Professor David Penington AC, An Overview of Drug Use and Drug Policy in Australia, 17 May 1999

Despite the best efforts and excellent work of law enforcement agencies, the seizure of illicit drugs represents but a small proportion of the amount of the substances available in the Australian market.

Based on the median figure of 74,000 dependent users and a consumption rate of .5 grams per day at a purity rate of 50%, the approximate consumption rate of heroin each year in Australia can now be assessed as approximately 6.7 tonnes. This represents a doubling of the situation from 17 years ago. If the higher end figure is used then a consumption rate of in excess of 8 tonnes per year is possible.

Law enforcement has interdicted only a fraction of the illicit dugs circulating in the community. In the year 1999/2000 Australian law enforcement agencies seized a total of approximately 5.3 tonnes of illicit drugs in Australia. Of this 5.3 tonnes, approximately 734 kilograms was heroin. Based on a conservative consumption rate of approximately 6 tonnes as illustrated above this represents just 12% of the heroin being consumed. If the higher consumption rate of 8 tonnes is considered the interdiction rate is even more alarming.

NCA [National Crime Authority] Commentary 2001

The drought also appears to have prompted some heroin users to seek methadone treatment and others to consume more of other drugs, such as cocaine. No lasting effects of the drought on heroin-related property crime have been observed.

The Australian Heroin Drought and its Implications for Drug Policy
Don Weatherburn, Craig Jones, Karen Freeman and Toni Makkai;
Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice Number 59, October 2001

"increasingly difficult to justify the continued distinction among substances solely according to their legal status and social acceptability. Insofar as nicotine-addiction, alcoholism, and the abuse of solvents and inhalants may represent greater threats to health than the abuse of some substances presently under international control, pragmatism would lead to the conclusion that pursuing disparate strategies to minimize their impact is ultimately artificial, irrational and uneconomical"

1994 Commission on Narcotic Drugs session by Giorgio Giacomelli, Executive Director of the UN Drug Control Program.

 An Agenda for Vienna : Change of Course. Drugs & Conflict Debate Papers March 2003 No. 6. Transnational Institute - www.tni.org/drugs/reports/debate6.pdf

"If you look at all the harms associated with drug use, you need to ask, 'Is the harm caused by the drug or the war on drugs?' As a drug, heroin gives a euphoric reaction and is highly addictive. You can say that but if you look at the other problems -- HIV, hepatitis C, bacterial infections of the heart -- all of those things are caused by dirty needles because the activity is confined to alleys. The violence is caused by money. Corruption and crime aren't a function of the drug, they're a function of the war on drugs."

Martin Schechter, Head of the Department of Health Care and Epidemiology at the University of British Columbia, National Post (Canada) Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jan 2003

"if we judge whether the existing drugs policy is working by measurable reductions in the number of people who use drugs, the number who die or suffer harm as a result, the supply of drugs, the amount of crime committed to get money to buy drugs and the organised criminality involved in transporting and supplying drugs, we have to say that the results are not coming through." ; 

Association of Chief Police Officers, Financial Times, (UK) 29/5/2002. 

"Moralists believe that the right response to failure is to try harder. In the US, federal government spending on anti-drug programmes rose from $900m in 1979 to $18bn (Pounds 12.3bn) in 1999. For moralists, the taking of drugs is downright wicked. William J. Bennett, America's first drugs tsar, argued that users of drugs were "slaves" of their vice. These slaves must be forced to be free - by being incarcerated, if necessary.; 

Martin Wolf, Financial Times (UK), 29/5/2002

Finally, there's the ridiculous notion that the conclusions of our report in some way promote or advance criminal activity or support terrorism. Currently, organized crime enjoys vast profits from the sale of illicit drugs. Legalization takes the production and distribution of cannabis products out of the hands of organized crime. Profits would go to shareholders, not terrorists or gang members.

Perhaps most important of all, buyers wouldn't be purchasing the product from someone who is also selling crack cocaine or heroin. If there is any "gateway effect" that can be attributed to cannabis, it's the fact that buyers, especially young people, are exposed to these dealers who stand to gain far more from pushing much more highly addictive substances on their customers than they do from selling cannabis.

Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, chairman, Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Ottawa, Thursday, October 10, 2002

 "We found that the nation lacks the necessary information to gauge the effectiveness of current (drug) enforcement activities. For a program of this magnitude, that is simply unconscionable." 

Charles F. Manski, chair of the US National Research Council committee of the National Academy of Sciences, April 13, 2000

Over the past two decades in Australia we have devoted increased resources to drug law enforcement, we have increased the penalties for drug trafficking and we have accepted increasing inroads on our civil liberties as part of the battle to curb the drug trade. All the evidence shows, however, not only that our law enforcement agencies have not succeeded in preventing the supply of illegal drugs to Australian markets but that it is unrealistic to expect them to do so.


Drugs, Crime and Society. Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority. 1989.

Policies have unwanted side effects. Taxes create moonshining, regulation creates evasion and corruption, prohibition creates black markets, programs cost money and often create perverse incentives. Since all drugs are dangerous and all policies are costly, we ought to consider, for each drug and for all of them together, what set of policies would create the least onerous overall problem, adding together the damage done by drug abuse and the damage done by attempts to control it.

Kleiman, MAR 1992, p. 386