Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Stoned stupidity

By Greg Barns - posted Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Another week, another series of headlines and stories about the impact of illicit drugs in our community - and, naturally, more calls from the law-and-order brigade to jail people who take illicit drugs or traffic in them.

Of course, it won't work. The war against drugs, which most Western societies appear addicted to, is simply a scandalous waste of money, resources and lives.

Politicians fulminate about the evils of drugs such as ice and heroin, and judges and magistrates insist on jailing drug users and traffickers because they say we need to send a message that dealing in illicit drugs, in any shape and form, will land you in hot water. Then there are periodic media campaigns delivering similar messages.


All this frenetic activity and torrent of harsh words is simply futile and it's about time our society got the message - prohibition never works.

We need politicians, lawyers, policy makers and community leaders to recognise the war on drugs for what it is: a farce.

Let's try a different approach. How about we decriminalise drugs? How about we focus instead on ensuring drug use is not a health hazard? How about we ensure users are using clean needles and that we help people kick drug addiction, as we do with smokers, alcoholics or gamblers? How about we get some simple economic sense into our collective heads and realise that if you want to take the super profits out of the drug trade and substantially reduce the cost of drugs so users don't beg, borrow and steal to feed their habit, then you make the product legal?

Think all this is a bit "too out there"? Well, think again. The thinkers among us know the current policy framework is simply ridiculous. Among them are such eminent personages as the now departed Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, former US secretary of state George Schultz and a retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, Burley Mitchell.

Burley Mitchell, in late 2005, showed rare courage in saying what many of his colleagues must surely think. After years as a prosecutor and a judge, he'd been involved in thousands of cases predicated on zero tolerance of illicit drugs. He shocked his audience at a law enforcement forum by describing the war on drugs as a total failure.

"What if we decriminalised drugs?" he asked. "If you knock out all the profits, there would be no more Colombian cartel. There would be no more Mexican cartel. They would be broken."


Drug offences should be treated as a medical problem, according to Mitchell. As he rightly pointed out: "God, what could we do with the money we spend on sending people to jail?"

He has allies in Gary Becker, another Nobel Prize-winning economist, and Judge Richard Posner, a former leading University of Chicago economist who is one of the most insightful intellectuals in the US. Posner and Becker, who write a blog that is actually worth reading, are scathing about the sorts of anti-drug policies pursued in the US and Australia. In an entry on March 20, 2005, Posner and Becker argued that drugs should be decriminalised and taxed like cigarettes, gambling or alcohol.

They observe that if such a policy were adopted, "instead of drug cartels, there would be legal companies involved in production and distribution of drugs of reliable quality, as happened after the prohibition of alcohol ended. There would be no destruction of poor neighbourhoods, no corruption of Afghani or Colombian governments, and no large-scale imprisonment of African-American and other drug suppliers. The tax revenue to various governments hopefully would substitute for other taxes or would be used for educating young people about any dangerous effects of drugs."

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in the Hobart Mercury on April 9, 2007.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

81 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Greg Barns

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Greg Barns
Article Tools
Comment 81 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy