January 19, 2013

For the controlled production, supply and use of illicit drugs


People take drugs for many different reasons; one of them is to have fun. A drug-free society has never existed.

A 2010 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare survey on drug use reports that about 7 million people in Australia have used illicit drugs in their lifetime and close to 3 million had used an illicit drug in the 12 months before the survey.

Cannabis was by far the most commonly used recent and over a lifetime drug, followed by ecstasy and then hallucinogens. (http://www.aihw.gov.au/)

There is growing consensus among professionals working in the “drug” field and beyond (including affected parents, user groups and even law enforcement agents) that prohibition has not only been a dismal failure but has in fact exacerbated harm to individuals and society as a whole, including the environment. (www.countthecosts.org/)

Very short history of prohibition

The 1961, 1971 and 1988 UN Drug Conventions provide the enforcement based legal framework for the international drug control regime.

The policies aim to eliminate drug supply and use. Under the conventions countries are required to “limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs”. (www.unodc.org)

It is estimated that drug use has increased by over 300% since 1961, with drugs being cheaper and easily available. A conservative UN estimate stipulates that there are around 250 million drug users worldwide.

Prohibition of currently illicit drugs has not always been the case in Australia. Heroin, for example, was legal and a frequently described analgesic in Australia until prohibition the mid 1950s. In its pure form, heroin was also a favoured drug used by doctors to help women manage their pain in childbirth because it had no side effects on the baby up until the banning of heroin importation in 1953. (www.nuaa.org.au)

It is now widely recognised that the prohibition/criminalisation of non-medical supply, production and use of illegal drugs has been a dismal failure. Since prohibition, heroin use in Australia has in fact increased from five kilograms per one million in 1951 to 350 kilograms per million by the late 1990s. (www.nuaa.org.au)

Drug prohibition is completely arbitrary and unrelated to risk and/or harm of the banned substance. In some countries drugs that are banned in Australia, such as cannabis, are legal while in others drugs that are legal here, such as alcohol are banned. Alcohol prohibition in the US in the 1920s led to an increase in criminal violence and corruption, while its ending did not cause a rise in alcoholism.

Nearly 50% of opium is currently legally produced by 18 countries for pharmaceutical purposes and a smaller percentage of legal production of coca and cocaine also takes place. (www.tdpf.org.uk)

As a matter of fact, Tasmania supplies about half of the world's legal pharmaceutical-grade narcotics material. The Tasmanian government’s Infrastructure and Resource Information Service explains that poppy farming is increasingly recognised as a lucrative cash crop and as part of cropping rotations for local farmers. (http://www.iris.tas.gov.au)

As the global debate on drugs is intensifying, a shift away from prohibition is also taking place globally. Portugal’s decision to decriminalise the personal possession, procurement and use of illicit drugs in 2001 has led to a reduction in deaths from overdoses and HIV infections amongst injecting drug users. (http://reformdrugpolicy.com/)

The therapeutic befits of marijuana are widely known and medical use is legal in 18 US states. Washington and Colorado recently voted to legally regulate cannabis for recreational use. (http://adlrf.org.au/)

Legislation that that would legalise the production and sale of marijuana under a state monopoly and allow cultivation for personal use was introduced to congress in Uruguay in early November 2012. (http://www.druglawreform.info)

Over 93 countries use a “harm reduction” approach and personal use of drugs has been decriminalised some European, Central and South American countries. (http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c3360)

Prohibition and organised crime

Prohibition has led to some drugs such as heroin and cocaine becoming high value commodities, which has led to the development of a murderous and criminal industry with profoundly detrimental social, political, environmental and economic consequences.

The illegal drug trade is worth around $450 billion dollars a year, making it the third most profitable industry, after oil and food globally. (http://www.australia21.org.au/)

Government and police corruption and law enforcement agents’ involvement in the illegal drug trade are well documented. Afghanistan, which produces 93% of global illegal opium, is a good case in point.

These negative effects are especially pronounced in producer and trading countries, such as Colombia, Mexico where tens of thousands of people get murdered every year by the drug mafia or through the ill-conceived “war on drugs”. (http://www.narconews.com)

Prohibition, prison and costs

Research has revealed that the prohibition of drugs is at the bottom of nearly all drug related acquisitive crime which is make up the majority of drug related harms to society. (http://www.tdpf.org.uk)

The figures are most stark in the United States, the world’s biggest market for illicit drug use.
Since the infamous “war on drugs” the prison population has skyrocketed. Even though the US makes up less than 5% of the world's population, it has 25% of the world's incarcerated people.

Prohibition of drugs and tougher sentencing laws have increased the size of our prison population. The Australian prison population has increased by around 36% in the last decade and it costs taxpayers around $100,000 a year to keep a person behind bars. (http://www.cla.asn.au)

Estimates are that 50-80% of Victorian prisoners have a drug or alcohol dependence and 44% of sentenced male prisoners and 60% of sentenced female prisoners reported that they had committed their offence(s) under the influence of drugs and/or to support a drug habit. (www.smartjustice.org.au)

Misguided law and order policies in relation to drug offences have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Research conducted by the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Melbourne, estimated that the Australian governments spent $3.2 billion on illicit drugs in 2002-03 of which law enforcement and crime responses accounted for the 75% of expenditure with health and social measures getting less than 25%. (www.turningpoint.org.au)

Prohibition and health

Criminalisation and the associated lack of access to clean injecting equipment has helped spread of infectious illnesses such as Hepatitis C and HIV. In Australia between 23–47% of prisoners have Hepatitis C, a rate that increases to between 50–70% for female inmates. (http://www.phaa.net.au/)

Thousands of people have also lost their lives through preventable drug overdoses because the strengths and quality of the products are unknown.

Stigma and discrimination associated with illicit drug use has also created real barriers in relation to accessing critical health and social services for drug users. Some people report having unused needles and syringes taken by police and/or used as the basis for threats and harassment. (www.aivl.org.au)

Socialist Alliance Policy

Socialist Alliance recognises that the use of currently illicit substances is a reality in Australia and around the world.

Socialist Alliance recognises that drugs ― legal as well as illegal ― can create significant harm for the individual and the community as a whole.

Socialist Alliance recognises that drug prohibition is completely arbitrary and unrelated to risk and/or harm of the banned substance and that a shift away from prohibition is taking place around the world.

Socialist Alliance believes that Australia’s current drug laws have compounded and increased the adverse health, social and economic effects of drug use in Australia.

Socialist Alliance supports drug policies that are evidence, human rights and social justice based, focusing on individual and societal wellbeing and not political and religious agendas.

Socialist Alliance does not believe that decriminalisation is sufficient to address the vast negative effects associated with illicit drugs. Decriminalisation will keep consumers out of prison but does not address the highly profitable drug trade or the potential for corruption of governments and authorities. Decriminalisation also leaves drug users highly vulnerable to the bad quality of drugs, which can have lethal consequences.

Policy details

A vast array of research suggests that the best and most humane way to minimise drug harms is through legal regulation.

Socialist Alliance does not support an immediate, uncontrolled legalisation of prohibited drugs (based on free market principals), which would potentially be little better than prohibition.

Drug regulation in combination with state-of-the-art research could offer a range of management options, which can be adjusted depending on local priorities and needs.

Socialist Alliance believes that the legal regulation of current illicit drug use and supply can help remove stigma and discrimination and provide the basis for a policy based on health promotion and harm minimisation.

Socialist Alliance calls for government to:
  • Shift legal regulation and associated responsibilities from the criminal justice system to the public health system;
  • Develop a series of models for drug provision, from prescription, to pharmacy sales, licensed sales, licensed premises and unlicensed sales. The models have to be based on evidence and assessment of risks;
  • Set and enforce standards, oversee and inspect every aspect of drug policy ― such as growing and manufacture, pricing, packaging, strength and purity levels, cleanliness and security of facilities ― through democratically-constituted expert and consumer committees; and
  • Ban the advertising and marketing of all currently legal and illegal drugs.

Other harm minimisation strategies

Socialist Alliance calls for government to:
  • Invest the billions of dollars currently spend on law enforcement and crime responses in the medical treatment of drug depended users and non-judgemental educational campaigns on the safe use of drugs;
  • Increase the availability of needle and syringe programs (such as needle exchange programs and medically supervised injecting facilities) - including for people in custody;
  • Make Narcan (naloxone) available as an over the counter medication to reduce the likelihood of death from opioid (eg heroin) overdoses;
  • Invest in and support research into and trials of harm minimisation programs;
  • Address underlying causes for drug dependency, such as poverty, social isolation, racism and family violence;
  • Support a health system that provides holistic care; and
  • Develop community reintegration programs including housing and support for people to move people out of the prison system.
  • Introduce legislation restricting employer rights to test workers for drug usage. Where a risk to workers or the community exists, drug testing must be for impairment in an Occupational Health and Safety framework.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users' League
Civil Liberties Australia
Count the Cost 50 Years of the War on Drugs
Infrastructure and Resource Information Service (IRIS)
NSW Users and Aids Association Inc
Public Health Association of Australia
Smart Justice
Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre
Transform Drug Policy Foundation
The Narco News Bulletin
Transnational Institute Drugs and Democracy
The Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


The Socialist Alliance would like to acknowledge the valuable input provided by drug liberalisation activists, health practitioners, members and others to the development of this policy.