Australia: Green Party Takes a Step Back on Drug Policy 1/27/06

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In the latest iteration of its drug policy platform, the Australian Green Party has retreated from its call to explore the regulated distribution of marijuana and Ecstasy. In a platform adopted in November and announced Wednesday in Canberra by Green Party leader Sen. Bob Brown, the Greens removed any reference to regulated sales and instead call for the establishment of an Australian Drugs Policy Institute to undertake research and evaluation of programs to reduce the harmful impact of drug use.

The Greens' old platform called for "the controlled availability of cannabis at appropriate venues" and "investigations of options for the regulated supply of social drugs such as Ecstasy in controlled environments."

"The contentious past proposals to investigate options for the regulated supply of marijuana and ecstasy have gone," Sen. Brown said. "It's come after a lot of study by the Greens in reference to national experts in the field of drugs. "It takes away the controlled-supply option that was there before with ecstasy and marijuana."

The Greens came under attack during the 2004 elections over the regulated supply planks, and with the atmosphere around marijuana in Australia growing increasingly hyperbolic, it appears as if the party has undertaken a tactical retreat. In so doing, it is in danger of ending up to the right of the government of Prime Minister John Howard when it comes to the dangers of marijuana. In his Wednesday statement, Sen. Brown criticized Howard for not researching the dangers of marijuana sooner.

"The Government has had blinkers on," Sen. Brown said. "Now the Prime Minister is belatedly going to tackle concerns about marijuana use with further research. We propose that it be appropriately funded and include targeted, specific education programs."

But even with the retreat on regulated sales and the political one-upmanship on pot's harm, the Green drug policy position remains resolutely progressive and forward-looking. It endorses harm reduction programs such as needle exchange and urges that drug use be treated as health issue, not a criminal one. It also calls for civil sanctions instead of criminal ones for drug users.

"There are serious health risks associated with all drug use," said Sen. Brown, one of four Greens in the Australian parliament. "We think people -- especially young people -- should be discouraged from abusing drugs including tobacco and alcohol. It is harmful for your health and our policy of harm minimization reflects that," he said.

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Issue #420 -- 1/27/06

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