|Nick Cowdery speaking at Aprés restaurant |
in Potts Point this morning
His message supporting the regulated legalisation of drugs was well crafted, emphasising the criminal enforcement sanctions that would still exist under legalisation, neatly heading off the usual 'legalisation would lead to a free-for-all' assertions of prohibitionists.
The rate of tobacco smoking is steadily being reduced, he pointed out, even though it was legal. Illicit drugs on the other hand are as popular as ever.
"Criminal law is a singularly inappropriate mechanism for dealing with a market," he said before explaining that since people first chewed on a plant and found that it altered the way they thought and felt, or ate some fermented fruit, they "have rather liked the idea".
This produced a demand and that always inspires someone to create a supply, and voila, you have a market.
Enter the War on Drugs, modelled on the failed prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, and the players in the market, competing for market share, are by definition criminals. This market worldwide turns over many billions of dollars each year, and has unsavoury offshoots such as narco-terrorism.
Criminal sanctions are notably ineffective against this international gravy train, because the easy profits are a certainty and the risk of capture relatively small.
Meanwhile in the USA, home of both prohibition and the GFC, $51 billion per year is being spent on the War on Drugs and 1,660,582 people have been arrested on non-violent drug offences. One in 100 adults in the USA are in jail, the highest incarceration rate in the world. A million of these are the parents of 2.2 million kids, 1.7 million of whom are under 12 years old.
This is why reformers say prohibition causes more harm than drug abuse.
Meanwhile in cash-strapped California, where a proposal to legalise cannabis was recently narrowly defeated, prisons are at 200% capacity and the Federal Supreme Court has ordered the state to reduce it to 137% of capacity within two years.
Mr Cowdery cited Portugal's experience, where the decriminalisation of all drugs in 2001 has not resulted in increased use, contrary to the fear campaigns of prohibitionists.