January 1, 2010, is an auspicious day for the Czech Republic.  It is the day on which it will no longer be a criminal offence to use and possess illicit drugs.  Czech law makers have joined a growing band of parliaments around the world that are recognising the folly of the war on drugs and its policy of prohibition.

The Czech Justice Minister Daniela Kovarova announced last week that it will no longer be an offence to possess and use “small” amounts of illicit drugs. This means individuals can have, for example, up to two grams of methamphetamine and amphetimines; up to 1.5 grams of heroin; up to one gram of cocaine; up to four ecstasy tablets; and up to 15 grams of marijuana.

The Czechs are following an emerging but seemingly unstoppable trend towards the end of the 40-year US-lesd war on drugs.  Portugal did what the Czech’s are doing in 2001.  In fact, most European countries’ courts and police do not prosecute or punish drug users today, and in Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil there are legislative moves to follow the Portuguese path.  These latter nations have been influenced by the powerful Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy — chaired by former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso, former president of Colombia, César Gaviria, and the former president of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo — which earlier this year declared the current strategy of prohibition a failure and recommended all countries in the region move to treat illicit drug-taking as a health issue.

Change is in the air so why aren’t we feeling its breezes in Australia?  Why is their a point-blank refusal by Australian political and media elites to recognise that the current policy stance that makes criminals of people with a health problem, and which encourages heavy-duty criminal activity because prohibition leads to super profits, is a dismal failure?

Besides the fact that jailing drug offenders is an utter waste of everyone’s time and taxpayers’ money, the flaw in the Australian approach, as opposed to that of the Czechs and the Portuguese, is that it fails to differentiate between the recreational drug user and those struggling with addiction.  If an individual wants to go to a party on a Saturday night with a couple of ecstasy pills in his pocket, and his girlfriend likes to do a line or two of coke, then they should be left alone by the law.  The law has no more place in regulating their activity than it does in interfering with the right of a person to drink a couple of glasses of wine.

But even if a person is addicted to a drug such as amphetimines or marijuana this is a health problem and only a health problem.  The police don’t run around arresting people with an addiction to alcohol, gambling or sex, so why do we make criminals of people who just happen to be addicted to drugs that we as a society hypocritically decide are illegal?

The Czechs are showing foresight, humanity and common sense in decriminalising drug possession and use, but in Australia we are continuing to prop up a bankrupt, in every sense of the word, policy.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW