Reporting on the National Ice Taskforce consultations in late December, 2015 the minister Fiona Nash wrote that ‘from Lismore to Geraldton, police said the same thing: “We can't arrest our way out of this… We need help from the whole community.’
Community is often invoked as the solution to drug-related problems, but what is it and who is included? It can be an amorphous concept until alienation brings it into focus.
‘Minister Grant,’ asked journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna on ABC Four Corner’ ‘Dying to Dance’ program (ABC 2016), ‘do you support the introduction of pill testing to reduce harm?’
‘I absolutely do not,’ he replied, twice.
Later in an interview on 2UE, Grant observed that drug-related problems were the product of a generation alienated from reality. ‘The generation we have now, “Generation Me” I think they’re calling it, they’re desensitized but they’re also cavalier, and I think it stems from, in their life, they’re able to hit the refresh button on the internet or their phones; playing video games there’s a reset button once they’ve crashed the car or shot all the people.
‘In life, there is no reset button: you take a pill, it kills you, it harms you irreversibly – you can’t hit a reset button on life… We have to be vigilant on that message that you cannot take these things [pills] without significant risk.’
Being criminals, the young people who talked about their own illicit drug use in the Four Corners program were all shown without faces. Literally effaced they seemed less than full people, in contrast to the experts whose faces were shown. This replicates something implicit in Grant’s comments about young people: that they are the source of the problem but are so diminished as people that they cannot be part of the solution.
At the same time, the young people depicted in the program made abundantly clear that Grant’s ‘just say no’ is not good enough. Abstinence really is the only way to eliminate risk but ‘just say no’ does not deal responsibly with the reality that people do use drugs.
Drug checking (the new term for ‘pill testing’, in an age where powders and crystals are more common) is a responsible government intervention. There’s no labelling regulations or quality control for illegal drugs, so there’s no transparency about contents and purity. Drug checking creates transparency. It makes it more difficult for drug dealers to sell unknown, contaminated or unwanted substances, and less likely that people will take them. With the recent uptake in the number of new psychoactive substances on the market, and widespread increases in drug purity, drug checking services are needed now more than ever.
In the demographic where illicit drug use is most common, the benefits of drug checking are widely understood. Research conducted by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in 2013 found drug checking was supported by 82% of young people. They seem to understand that it’s better people who are taking a drug know what it is, how potent, and whether it’s contaminated. They should be part of the conversation about policy, not excluded from it.
Unharm's mission is to activate and empower people who share our vision: a world where drug use is as safe, positive and ethical as it can be. We are a volunteer organization that does community organising and capacity building here in Sydney and digital and media campaigning nationally. We want to undo the harm caused by prohibition and promote programs that actually help people stay safe and live well as productive members of the community.
Unharm’s position is that criminalising drug use is out of step with how we deal with other risky behaviours and it does not work. The alienation of recreational drug use from ‘normal’ life promotes riskier practice and can be a barrier to treatment for those who need it. These are serious problems, and there is another more fundamental one: criminalising drug use disenfranchises millions from legitimate membership in ‘the community’ and alienates us from being part of the solution to drug-related problems. Fiona Nash is right – real solutions will require help from the whole community. That is why drug use should not be a crime.