Australia: National Green Party Abandons Drug Legalization Position

The Australian Green Party has taken another step back from positions adopted earlier this decade calling for the regulated distribution of marijuana and other "social drugs," such as ecstasy. For the first time, the party has made its opposition to drug legalization part of its drug policy platform.

Just to make the party's retreat crystal clear, the opposition to legalization is the first item in the Green drug policy platform: "The Australian Greens do not support the legalization of currently illegal drugs," the plank bluntly states.

The Green Platform prior to the 2004 national elections was quite different. It 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." But under the direction of current party leader Sen. Bob Brown, the Greens in January 2006 removed any reference to marijuana or other soft drug legalization from the platform, instead calling for the formation of a national drug policy institute.

The retreat comes in the run-up to parliamentary elections this year and the context of a political reaction to the limited drug policy reforms adopted by various states, hyperbolic scare campaigns about marijuana potency and its links to mental illness, and high rates of methamphetamine and ecstasy use. The Greens in particular were hammered hard as "drug legalizers" in 2004 by the governing Liberals, as well as by social conservative parties like Family First, and may be hoping to appear more palatable to the opposition Labor Party.

Sen. Brown said as much in announcing the policy shift Saturday. "It doesn't leave the Greens open to misinterpretation from Family First and Pauline Hanson," he said. "It maintains our concern that while drug dealers should be dealt with under the penal code, the victims should be helped."

Brown said the party had relied on the best expert drug advice for its change of policy. "It has honed our policy and brought it more up to date with world's best practice," he said.

Currently, the Greens hold four Senate seats (out of 76), obtained with 7.7% of the vote, which, under Australia's system of proportional representation, allows them a chair at the table. Although the Greens captured 7.2% of the vote for House members, they won no seats. They are competing in every constituency in the country in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Still, while the Greens have clearly shifted the public emphasis of their drug policy -- they also call for crackdowns on drug sellers -- the meat of the Green drug policy platform is far superior to anything adopted by the major Australian parties, or the major parties in the US, for that matter. The second plank in the platform is a call for harm reduction, the fifth calls for a public health approach, and the sixth says people should not be imprisoned for drug use alone.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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