Drug Decriminalization Conversation Ramps Up In Australia

By Kelly Burch 03/22/17

The former head of Australian Federal Police and other officials are calling for the consideration of a "white market" for legalized drug sales. 

Drugs and handcuffs on a table.

Mick Palmer spent decades locking up drug users, first as a policeman and eventually as the head of the Australian Federal Police.

Now, Palmer—along with other law enforcement officers and politicians—is calling for the widespread decriminalization of drugs in Australia in order to turn the tide against a drug enforcement policy that has been shown not to work. 

“We’ve been locking up drug users ever since I joined the police in the '60s and the demand level has never moved other than up in the whole time I’ve been involved in the process over 50 years,” Mick Palmer, former head of the Australian Federal Police, told BBC News. “We’ve marginalized and criminalized the people who use drugs and do no other crime … To continue to demonize those people is mind-numbingly stupid, it seems to me.”

Palmer was speaking out in conjunction with a report titled, “Can Australia Respond to Drugs More Effectively and Safely?” The report calls for distinguishing between the high-end trafficking of drugs and personal possession and use, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The report recommends incrementally decriminalizing drugs in Australia and calls for the consideration of a “white market” of legalized drug sales. 

“There’s no way we’re going to control the problems we’re dealing with in this country and, I think, in every other country I’ve looked at, unless we can find some way to eliminate the profit,” Palmer told the BBC

Palmer is joined by former police commissioners, two former heads of Corrective Services, a former Supreme Court Judge and a former Director of Public Prosecutions in his support for decriminalization. 

“The overriding objective of Australia’s national policy on drugs should be and must be the minimization of harm to users and those around them,” Palmer said. “The use and possession at the low end of the marketplace must be decriminalized and considered to be a health and social problem rather than a criminal problem.”

While trafficking drugs would still be a criminal infraction, Palmer said that use shouldn’t be criminalized. He said that marijuana would be a good place to start the regulation of the drugs marketplace, and that Australia should think about taking drugs off the black market and onto a federally approved “white market.” 

“[This] requires us to consider how we could regulate the supply of drugs,” Palmer said. “Standing still is not an option.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.