I work for an organisation who support young people in their transition through “adulthood”.
Recently, a young person, age 13, who was attending our program for the second time only was caught with a couple small bags of marijuana. Because of Department of Education policies I had to report the matter to the Police. I knew little to nothing about this kid's well-being, mental health and famiy relationships. He is not coming back to our program because of this.
I really hope the intervention from the police will cause more good then harm..
- Name has been changed.
Mick Palmer's story
For over half a century our governments have relied heavily on law enforcement to curb the drug trade and reduce drug use. The results, I suggest, speak for themselves. Despite huge funding, ever increasing levels of police effectiveness and genuine effort, and the imposition of very lengthy prison terms for serious drug offences, the drug trade has just kept getting bigger, more dangerous and more prosperous.
The simple over-riding fact is, with the best intentions in the world, as former Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said when head of then PM Abbott’s Ice Task Force, we cannot arrest and imprison our way out of our present dilemma. We must be prepared to try new ideas and approaches. I am not suggesting “going soft” on drugs but rather “getting smarter” about drugs. Adopting a safer, saner approach which provides some control over the currently totally uncontrolled illicit drug marketplace. It is about achieving better, safer, more humane outcomes.
If we are going to have a zero tolerance approach it should be a zero tolerance to the needless loss of any young Australian’s life. It is not about giving the green light to drug use either, but rather shining a light on protecting people’s lives and supporting people in need.
- Mick Palmer is a former Australian federal police commissioner.
I have smoked cannabis for 32 years and this makes me a law breaker in Australia. I have smoked cannabis with off duty police, business owners, a doctor, nurses and people from all walks of life. Most of these people are otherwise law-abiding and productive members of society.
Regulation and legalisation of cannabis could bring enormous financial rewards for the community.
- Name has been changed.
I have a view and it's my abiding wish to see people with addictions provide us with a portal into human nature, because I think that addictions are an aspect of normality that has gone awry. And at certain times in our history as a species it goes especially awry and causes great damage, and was never more dangerous in history than it is now. So, those people who self-identify as having serious addictions can provide us with a portal into this nature; a lens not into how bad and what suffering their use of drugs has caused them, but to how they recover.
I'm writing about my experience beyond recovery. I call it “UNCOVERY” and I call my book “Uncovering Addictions and Responding With Compassion” because I think what's interesting is not the suffering of drug use but the potential for transformation beyond recovery. I think that people very frequently do completely recover, flourish, and actually look back on their experience of addiction and recovery with some kind of gratitude for how it has empowered them, and [therefore] the example that they can provide in terms of flourishing and freedom.
While I don't regard addiction as a disease, I do describe my situation as cured. And that's, to me, a fascinating opportunity to see the potential for all humans to change our relationship, not only to drugs, but to craving itself and to forms of behaviour that are best understood in the light of addictions.
In my family, in my home, where politics is a frequent subject, there's great consternation and fear around the President of the United States and his behaviour. And so, it's endlessly discussed: "What's his strategy?" Because there's a cunning intelligence that seems to be in effect here, and yet an egregious bad judgment. Addiction is where we see that confluence of cunning intelligence and egregiously bad judgment playing out every day.
So when I look back at my experience in crack houses dealing with people on a run - like I went on runs of two and three weeks' duration - the kind of ways that a crack cocaine addict deals with the cohorts, the girls, the dealers is very similar to what I see in the White House where Donald Trump is dealing with his advisors and his minions and the politicians from other countries who visit him. He behaves like a crack addict on a run. And to understand it that way is a useful way, and to understand how that can be cured even for people who have it very bad is a source of hope, not of despair.
- John Becker is a writer and mediator from Toronto.
As I look at the current scene, obviously cannabis legalisation is fascinating here in Canada. All the speculation will hopefully be overcome by factual evidence year by year as that happens. I'm suspecting that it's going to be no big whoop in a certain sense that we already have our population of users and that might increase a bit, but it's probably got a certain scope to it.
But the opioid crisis, I think, is different, and the public health response has been more interesting. Safe injection sites are now called Overdose Prevention Sites. The current conservative government [of Ontario] shut them down, but because of pressure they've actually had to say, “We're going to let them open but we're going to change their focus to treatment.” So, “we're going to try to catch these folks and corral them into treatment” is back to that Australian model which looks more at social determinants, rather than a harm reduction view. So they don't have the imagination for that, I think - political imagination. They just see that this is bad behaviour and ask, “Why are people being allowed to get away with using drugs? We should be coming down hard on them or getting them into treatment.”
For me, the issue we never talk about is the endemic nature of addiction, and that leads us to alcohol particularly. If we're looking at a societal level for where the harms are coming from, that's where it's coming from. It just swamps the boat, compared to the other stuff.
- W.J. Wayne Skinner is an Assistant Professor and Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.
I have a chronic pain condition. I have back pain most days. Sometimes it can be severe, for weeks at a time. I have used cannabis in countries where it's legal for pain relief. It was very helpful. I just wish I could use it here in Australia.
- Name has been changed.
I had a mate at school - David, brilliant at Maths and Art, and a genuinely nice guy. Too popular with the girls for my comfort, but I still thought he was cool and admired him. By our last year at school he was into heavy dugs and later died of a heroin overdose. Such a brilliant mind and good person wasted by something we could easily have prevented with pill/drug testing.
He obviously had his demons - we all do. But his life was taken by something we could have prevented with a simple test, to give him literally life-saving information. Instead, we ban and dictate and legislate, which does nothing out in the real world.
Get real and save lives. Otherwise, get out of the way and let us save good people like David.
I will never forget him, and the tragic and preventable loss of a good life so young.
- Names have been changed.
The campaign of "Just say no" has not worked for the last 5 decades. The idea that it is a criminal issue has not worked at lowering usage levels. It's time to try something that has been proven to work. Make it a medical issue and fund real education programs that empower people to get help.
- Name has been changed.
I find it absolutely tragic and disturbing to experience first hand mainstream societies attitude towards dirty no good junkies like me. Unless the draconian laws and attitudes change we will continue to suicide or die slow painful lonely lives. I need more space for my sad story.
- Name has been changed.
At the level of government policy and people who have these overblown fears about addiction, they don't actually give the users enough credit for knowing a lot about drugs. They also know a lot about harm and they have a lot of good ideas. In fact, many have fuelled our best harm reduction initiatives.
So, for me, cannabis has always been kind of the beachhead for prohibition. That's why it's been fought so hard, because the idea is that, “Well, if you let cannabis through, everybody's gonna be following with more and more drugs.” And, of course, that isn't true. We know from all the surveys of young people that very few young people under 16 use cannabis very often, and much less try other drugs. One of the studies by Eric Single in America was able to show that one of the factors that helped to explain why so many people used drugs other than cannabis was because the dealers had the different drugs to offer.
So, the actual illegality of cannabis helped to promote marketing among at least some dealers; that's part of the roots of the Dutch system. They said, "Let's separate the market." They were brilliant back in 1970 or so, and it took us a long time to catch on.
So I think that's an important factor - to separate the cannabis market now and to look at the other substances that we have to worry about separately, and say, "Well, what is the right policy?" We obviously have to deal with the opioid epidemic in some way, but the demand was generated before the fentanyl started coming in because of the pharmaceutical companies' marketing that created all the Oxycontin users. And then, when their legal drugs got pulled off, some of them went to the illegal market and didn't know what they were getting.
Safe injection sites, important as they are, (and the regional ones actually were like the new forward approach), they wanted to be multi-dimensional and offer treatment for people who wanted it. But the thing is that right now, you have people dying who are middle class recreational users. I've heard from my students who know someone using cocaine, that they got fentanyl instead. They're not necessarily the group that we thought of that were gonna access the safe injection sites like in Vancouver, or in Moss Park, or places here where we know there's a larger group of marginalised drug users.
So, we have to worry about the population as a whole, and that can be what propels change, in a sense that the impetus for marijuana policy change (in the 1970s) came when we realised that middle class kids were the ones that were getting criminal records. And, like it or not, the fact that all the people who are dying of opioid overdose aren't located in our inner city poor areas, that also is an impetus that I think will start rethinking a better, more health-oriented perspective.
- Pat Erickson is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Crime and Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Toronto.