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Australia: NSW Greens' Call to Decriminalize Drug Possession Causes Pre-Election Stir

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #477)
Consequences of Prohibition

Drug policy is becoming a major campaign issue in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW). With an ongoing, highly publicized "epidemic" of methamphetamine use under way and elections now less than 10 days away, the NSW Green Party is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession -- even the dreaded ice, as meth is commonly referred to Down Under -- and Liberal and Labor party foes are attacking them for it.

Lee Rhiannon
Although Greens hold only a handful of seats in the state parliament, by throwing their support to the governing Labor Party in some key districts, they could end up holding the balance of power in the Upper House. The NSW Greens' leading Upper House candidate, Lee Rhiannon, has been the party's main spokesperson in the increasingly nasty exchanges over drug policy.

The Greens' position on the decriminalization of drug possession is not ad hoc. It reflects the party's formal platform on drug policy, adopted last October after extensive consultations with party members. The platform also calls for the stronger embrace of harm reduction measures and the decriminalization of marijuana growing for personal use.

While the Greens' drug platform is not new, Rhiannon's public reiteration of it Monday ignited a firestorm of criticism and mischaracterization. The Daily Telegraph blurted to its readers that the Greens were "effectively saying that ice junkies should be free to buy as much of the deadly substance as they want." The Daily Telegraph also described the Green position that decriminalizing drug possession was less dangerous than prohibition as "a bizarre defense."

Liberal leader Peter Debnam was also caustic, writing in his blog: "Any Member of Parliament who thinks we should decriminalize drugs, including 'Ice', should take a good hard look at themselves, do the community a favour, and resign" and "This drug is death to young people and it is undermining a whole generation."

While Debnam accused the Greens and the Labor Party of cooking up some sort of "ice deal," there was little sign of that from Labor Premier Morris Iemma. He responded to the Green drug platform by saying: "It is just an absurd, ridiculous and disgusting policy." Any MP who supported such a policy was "completely out of touch with reality," he said.

Just to make things perfectly clear, Labor Party secretary Mark Arbib added that while Labor was willing to cut an electoral deal with the Greens, it does not endorse Green drug policy. "There will be no watering down of the (Labor) party's tough drug laws or positions on other social issues," he said.

But the Greens are fighting back, against both the political attacks and the yellow journalism. "The allegation in today's Daily Telegraph that the Greens policy would allow people to buy unlimited amounts of the deadly drug 'ice' is totally false," Rhiannon said in a Tuesday statement. "The Greens policy does not support unlimited supply of any drug, least of all crystal methamphetamine. This attack on the Greens is an election scare tactic which will distract from the urgent task of protecting young people from ice. The Greens do not support drug use and our policy does not condone people using the new drug known as ice."

Rhiannon also went after Premier Iemma for both failure and hypocrisy. "The Iemma government has failed to deal with the increased use of ice," she said. "The use of crystal methamphetamine has increased during the term of the Iemma/Carr government. There are now more than 17,700 regular methamphetamine users and 14,700 dependent methamphetamine users in Sydney and the number is growing rapidly," she noted.

"The drug policies of the Labor government are failing to deal with the epidemic," Rhiannon continued. "What is needed are prevention initiatives that educate the target populations to the dangers of using the drug and effective and accessible treatment programs for dependent and addicted users."

In fact, as the Greens noted in a Wednesday press release, Labor actually quietly supports many Green harm reduction notions and treatment and diversion programs for meth users. "The Premier is quick to put the boot into the Greens for our approach to ice. But the reality is Labor has instituted innovative ice programs, based on the harm minimization principles advocated by the Greens," Rhiannon said.

Among those programs is a stimulant treatment program at two hospitals, the safe injection room at Kings Cross, and the "MERIT" program that diverts meth users into treatment instead of jail. "If we really want to make NSW ice free, these programs need to be expanded and receive a massive increase in funding," said Rhiannon. "Premier Iemma should shout these initiatives from the rooftops instead of hiding behind his tough "law and order" policies. It appears that he is more concerned about a political backlash. To successfully eradicate ice politicians must be willing to take action that may be at first unpopular. Without brave policy from government, ice will continue to wreak havoc in our society."

Perhaps Debnam, Arbib and Iemma should listen to prominent Australian physician Dr. Alex Wodak's interview last year with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Among Wodak's quotes of note: "Prohibition didn't work in America in the 1920s and it won't work now."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

I think that as long as society continues to be the way it is today we are going to continue to have drug issues in society. The government believes that a zero tolerance policy is the best way to go ( most likley because they think the voter believes this) but its never worked and will continue to not work. They need to look at the issue of drug use, this being all drugs, not just crystal meth in a realistic way and not just from the perspective of shock headlines. Drug use is not a new thing, and stopping short of a '1984' environment people will never stop using drugs. The concern the government should have is one for the preservation of human life but not at the expense of human life, if you understand me.

Sat, 03/17/2007 - 1:46pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

hey .... i am doing an assignment on ice and i really need to know the jail terms for possession.

Wed, 09/12/2007 - 4:56am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

When will the goverment legalise party drugs e.g extacy, its less harmful than booze! Polticians are all boring old farts!

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 10:16pm Permalink
Anonymous5 (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

the term party drugs tends to include ice and speed which are probably worse than alcohol, but pure ecstasy (mdma) is not particularly harmful. unfortunately most pills contains ice or speed as well and sometimes other things

Thu, 07/18/2013 - 4:19am Permalink
lillie (not verified)

decriminalize weed, or legalize it...but not other drugs..especially not might aswell be giving away heroin for free

Wed, 09/22/2010 - 9:40pm Permalink
borden (not verified)

In reply to by lillie (not verified)

Legalize everything, prohibition only makes the drugs more dangerous, not less. The heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland and Germany and The Netherlands and Denmark and Vancouver Canada turn addicts back into real people. By giving away heroin for free.
Thu, 09/23/2010 - 1:39am Permalink
Dependant user… (not verified)

I'm 33yr/old m.SYDNEY.IVe been on and off ice addiction . Both smoking and injecting for over 10 year. The health issue hasn't been an issue as I always used pure product or washed and purified product b4 use . I'm physically fit , good looking and 180 kgs . What has ACTUALLY wrecked my life is the criminal element . Supporting my 500 $ a day has often seen me forced too become criminally minded despite often working 2 or more full time jobs . Imagine if I'd been helped so it was just a health issue not a criminal one. I'm clean again now because I have placed myself in the outback and can't get it but everyday my depression is horrible in a subtle way . Time too head back too the city soon and risk my freedom and life again because I can't escape....wish I'd picked herion at age 19 because they have methadone and a chance too move on . Decriminalize standard dosing and pot . Pot can stamp out the cravings somewhat but never 100% my record of being clean is 3 years.
Thu, 02/25/2016 - 10:19pm Permalink
Dependant user… (not verified)

In reply to by Dependant user… (not verified)

Correction I'm 100 kgs not 180 kgs I only mention this because there is clearly misinformation in community bout how too use. That's my perfect weight and my skin is good. It's the dirty cap that it's cut with that provides the poor souls that are on your posters about ice.
Thu, 02/25/2016 - 10:24pm Permalink

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