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The recently released Australia 21 report has revived the age-old question: should illicit drugs be legalised?

The report, entitled ‘The Prohibition of Illicit Drugs is Killing Our Children and We Are Letting it Happen’, called for there to be a national conversation debating the pros and cons of decriminalising and regulating drugs.

This was welcomed by Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), a 1,500-strong organisation of lawyers who operate in the human rights field.

The president of ALA, Greg Barnes said: “We need a discussion on how to tackle the drugs problem, because it is clear that current, 40-year-old policies of criminalisation are failing.”

J, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is a 26-year-old drug dealer. He operates in the Sydney CBD area and has been following the legalisation debate closely.

“I’m just the middle man. I get the drugs from higher up, pass them on to and make a small profit for myself,” he said.

“This isn’t my only source of income and I can’t say that I enjoy doing it, but it definitely helps out money-wise.

The living costs in Australia are so high, so every little bit helps.”

The proposal for government regulated drugs aims to put an end to street dealing.

This is welcomed by Brian McConnell, founder of Friends and Family of Drug Law Reform and a member of the roundtable at Australia 21.

“We want to open conversation about drug regulation, much the same way as we regulate things like milk or aspirin. There would be clear guidelines of expiry dates, dosage and warnings. At the moment, any age can buy drugs off the street and it’s not safe. This way, we can quality control drugs and introduce things like age limits or even use a permit system,” he said.

J foresees bigger problems with this. “It’s true I would stop dealing if drugs became government controlled, but only because there would be no profit in it for me personally. The same can’t be said for those higher up,” he said.

“In this circle, you build up loyalties. People will keep using dealers they know and trust. Maybe because that’s what they’re used to, or maybe because they are afraid of what would happen if they stopped. Either way, there’s no way of guaranteeing people would stop using the black market. In fact, the bigger boys would take over from us. But, that could get pretty brutal – violent, even – without us middle men keeping the peace.”

Other themes in the report included: treating drug use as a health issue, rather than a criminal offence; potential cost benefits legalisation could have on the community; and various examples of successful alternate policies already adopted by other countries.

By Punam Vyas