‘This hush-hush atmosphere has to end’

15 December 2021 | Posted In: #141 Summer 2021,


Here, advocates and policy experts speak out about illicit drug use.

Catharine Lumby

Like most of my cohort, I have occasionally used illicit recreational drugs. And like most of them, I have never developed an addiction to illicit drugs. Alcohol has caused many people I know far more trouble than cocaine or cannabis. Yet many of our politicians ignore the evidence on drug use and like to pretend it can be policed out of existence, even while drug markets continue to expand. At the moment, all we are doing is criminalising and harming already marginalised communities.

Obviously, some lives are damaged by drug use, whether the drugs are legal or illegal. Funding treatment services and compassionate, evidence-based care is critical. But let’s be honest about recreational drugs: lots of professional, educated and socially privileged people do them at some point.

Nat Gombos

I’m missing from the narrative. Like many who take recreational drugs, I have good experiences and lead a normal life. I’m hoping someone privileged and middle class like myself, with two degrees, will challenge the views of those with the ‘tough on drugs’ mentality. Those most affected by punitive drug laws are disadvantaged people.

This hush-hush atmosphere has to end. Then we can divert funding to rehab where needed, and redeploy police resources to other, more desperate areas. But nothing happens without people agitating for change. By not speaking up, I contribute to the wall of silence harming people.

Ernie Hamilton

The negative media stereotype you see of drug users is almost the opposite of reality. Often they’re people performing high-level tasks, they’re very responsible and community minded.

At sports events, I’ve seen violent, alcohol-fuelled outbreaks and yet police are often cordial. Contrast that with dance festivals: police are standoffish and aggressive, yet I’ve never seen violence there.

Alex Wodak

If legalisation means ‘all drugs available in unlimited quantities to whoever wants them for a fee’, the community would never agree to this. Regulating as much of the market as possible is more achievable. It’s now clear that the effect of less punitive drug policies on drug consumption is minimal while there is a clear benefit: harsh drug policies cause great damage to young people. Most people who know something about drug policy are well aware of this. We can’t just keep on kicking this can down the road.

Gino Vumbaca

Police can make enormous busts data later shows there’s minimal impact. The current approach defies logic. The level of harm for criminalising small amounts of possession far outweighs any benefit to the community.

Daniel Raffell

The biggest harm we see at Smart Recovery Australia is alcohol, and that’s legal. So a case [for legalisation] can be argued both ways. But prohibition didn’t go so well. It isn’t the substance that’s the issue — it’s the brokenness: lack of connection, purpose or opportunity.

Chris Gough

People who use drugs . . . they punish themselves more than anything — we call it self-stigma. They’re socially isolated, they fall away from their family and their friends and all of this comes from that very simple point that drugs are illegal and that you’re doing something wrong that society punishes you for. We need to rethink that, we need to be supporting people, we need to think of it as a health problem.

  • Read ISV magazine in full here