From Medical to Recreational: The Road the Regulation
On Saturday the 5th of December EGA premiered the Melbourne screening of DrugLawed, a New Zealand documentary following the atrocities of the global drug war instigated by the United States. The screening was followed by a panel which focused on current drug policy issues and pragmatic ways to move forward. The panel was chaired by host of Enpsychedelia (http://www.enpsychedelia.org & http://www.3cr.org.au/enpsychedelia) on 3CR Nick Wallis and included the following guests:
Greg Chipp is a director of Drug Policy Australia, a newly-established public health NGO primarily concerned with drug policy advocacy and with promoting new legislative approaches to minimise the harms associated with the use of psychoactive substances. He has been actively involved in politics and public policy development for several decades, beginning with his involvement in the Australian Democrats, a political party he helped establish in the 1970’s.
More recently Greg stood as a Drug Law Reform candidate in the 2013 Federal election campaigning on a platform of decriminalising the use of all drugs and calling for a Royal Commission into the health and economic costs associated with the criminalisation of recreational drug use. Greg believes that the current prohibitionist approach of criminalising drug use does more harm than good, and that a new regulatory system for Australia based on the ‘Portugal Model’ is both realistic and achievable.
Helen Barnacle is a psychologist with over three decades of experience. Now in private practice, Helen continues to work with people with addiction issues, ‘victims of crime’, trauma, women experiencing violence and the general community. She is also a musician who spent many years performing and song writing. Between 2000 and 2010 she devoted considerable time and energy to utilising the arts to work with young people, particularly young women in custody in the youth justice system.
Helen is the author of ‘Don’t Let Her See Me Cry’, a best-selling autobiography depicting Helen’s remarkable journey from a hopeless young heroin addict facing prison with a new baby, to successful psychologist. Helen became the first woman to keep her baby in prison beyond the age of one, after receiving the longest drug-related sentence ever meted out to a woman in Victoria.
Greg Denham is the Executive Officer of the Yarra Drug and Health Forum and is also the Australian representative for LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a US based group made up of police who want to end the war on drugs. He has over 25 years of local, national and international experience in illicit drug policy and policing.
Greg is a former member of Victoria Police and has spent a significant amount of his career training police on drug harm minimisation policies and principles. In recent years Greg has been an advisor on several international harm reduction and HIV prevention projects in Asia and East Africa. He has also worked for the UN, work that focussed on providing technical advice for law enforcement, government, non-government and community groups on HIV prevention through harm reduction programs.
Greg is a strong advocate for drug policy reform and is committed to removing punitive and discriminatory drug laws that stigmatise drug use and deny human rights.
Fiona Patten is the founder and leader of the Australian Sex Party and a Member of the Victorian Legislative Council for the Northern Metropolitan region. She came to politics after 20 years of lobbying for the rights of organisations involved in civil liberties movement – including HIV/AIDS organisations, sex worker advocacy, adult media and anti-censorship groups. Fionahas been a drug law reform advocate for decades and has been very proactive in the movement.
Producer of DrugLawed and currently working on the sequel, DrugLawed Two. There is a Kickstarter campaign currently running to help fun the next film. Details can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1989898482/druglawed-2
Fiona Patten MLC has submitted a wide ranging inquiry into Victoria’s current drug laws. Details on the 'Inquiry into Illicit and Synthetic Drugs and Prescription Medication' can be found here: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/lrrcsc/inquiries/article/2809 and it is not due to report until March 2017. The Terms of Reference of the inquiry are very broad:
- reviewing the effectiveness of drug treatment programs in Victoria with recommendations on how treatment and harm minimisation strategies could be used as an alternative to criminal penalties;
- reviewing the effectiveness of Victorian government investment into illicit drug supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction strategies and programs;
- reviewing effectiveness of drug detection programs including roadside testing and procedures for deploying drug detection activities at events;
- assessing the impact of prescription medication on road safety;
- reviewing and assessing the effectiveness of laws and regulations relating to illicit and synthetic drugs; and
- assessing practices of other Australian states and territories and overseas jurisdictions and their approach to drug law reform and how other positive reforms could be adopted to Victorian law.
The inquiry will look into practices such as using Passive Alert Detection (PAD) dogs, commonly known as sniffer dogs at music festivals and other events. This particular topic had been in the news surrounding the panel, as sniffer dogs operations at festivals have been linked to dangerous consumption behaviour by patrons trying to avoid detections. At the time of writing this, nearly 40,000 people have signed Adriana Buccianti’s Change.org petition (https://www.change.org/p/my-son-died-at-a-music-festival-don-t-let-any-more-young-people-die-at-australian-festivals), asking that sniffer dogs be called off. Adriana is the mother of Daniel Buccianti, who passed away following an opiate overdose at Rainbow Serpent Festival 2012.
The campaigns for cessation of sniffer dogs is a step in the right direction, but another step toward reducing harms is the introduction of drug checking services such as as pill testing. The panelists briefly touched on this topic, which has been building in momentum for many months and has recently reached a high point. The peer-based psychedelic and other drug harm reduction and education service DanceWize has lead the push for these services to be implemented at Victorian festivals.
The panel also touched on the recent introduction of an amendment to Victoria’s prohibition legislation which seeks to widen the scope of prohibition and the penalties associated with possession, supply, manufacture and cultivation of Schedule 11 substances, which includes cannabis, LSD, MDMA and psilocybin. The amendment has already passed the Lower House with very little debate. The only amendments offered so far were from the Liberal Party, who wanted to increase already extensive sentences proposed in the Bill. Sections 71E and 71F of the proposed amendments focus on the possession or distribution of instructions relating to the cultivation, supply or manufacture of a Schedule 11 drug. In layperson terms, this means that if you possess a book or magazine that includes basic cannabis cultivation instructions, then you could potentially face hefty penalties, including jail time. It seems plausible that even printing out a copy of psilocybe mushroom growing tips could be considered grounds for prosecution. (http://enpsychedelia.org/enpsychedelia/blog/victorias-book-ban-on-the-horizon-for-2016/).
Greg Chipp of Drug Policy Australia is working with a small team of people to protest against the introduction of these amendments. The Bill is currently sitting in the Legislative Council and won’t be debated until Parliament resumes in 2016 on February 9th. Over your holiday season, make sure to get in contact with your representatives in the Legislative Council and let them know that you think Sections 71E and 71F of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2015 go too far. The more that your representatives hear your voice on these important issues, the more likely it is that they will raise objections, discuss this with their colleagues and potentially introduce amendments to stop this sort of thing from happening.
The panelists went on to take a more optimistic and pragmatic look into how currently illegal drugs could be regulated in the future, giving us some of their ideas and thoughts on this particularly complex issue that receives too little attention. The key to making change happen is for you to get involved. There are people already out there doing some heavy lifting. Find the others and give them a hand. Writing to your politicians helps to seed ideas in their mind but also writing to your paper, speaking to the radio stations and television stations and of course getting out on social media are all good ways for you to engage. Be polite and check your facts when you engage. An informed advocate is far more effective than someone who is passionate but unable to communicate well with those who don’t already agree with the position of the passionate advocate.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- If you’re a University student, get involved with the beginning of drug policy reform groups on campus. http://enpsychedelia.org/enpsychedelia/blog/help-setup-university-campus-drug-policy-reform-clubs/
- Write to your local members of parliament. Make sure you know who you are writing to, whether they are your federal representative or state representative and which house they sit in.
- Participate in the online discussions.
- Write to your local paper, call your radio station, write to your television station.
- Become involved with groups like Drug Policy Australia (http://www.drugpolicy.org.au/), UnHarm (http://www.unharm.org/) and DanceWize (http://hrvic.org.au/dancewize/volunteer-form/).
- Attend EGA events (http://www.entheogenesis.org).
- Support PRISM (http://www.prism.org.au).
- Listen to Enpsychedelia (http://www.enpsychedelia.org).
- Speak to your peers and relatives openly and honestly about your own drug use or interest in drugs. Open up the dialogue.
- Keep compassionate. Remember that your preferences may not be the preferences of others and that is not a reason to judge another negatively. If someone is having a difficult battle with a substance, help them rather than stigmatise them.
About Entheogenesis Australis:
For a decade Entheogenesis Australis has provided a major meeting place for ethnobotanical enthusiasts and specialists in Australia to share information and celebrate community. The aims of the EGA conference are to address the issues relating to drug use from social, cultural and traditional perspectives. Past conference programs have drawn on covered diverse topics including therapy, biology, pharmacology, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, botany, visionary art, culture, politics, law and more, to provide a realistic context of the role drugs and altered states play in the modern world.
Altered states of consciousness have long been a fundamental part of human culture, and as our world becomes increasingly fast-paced, alternative modalities are becoming ever more significant and consciously explored. If you’ve ever asked yourself: “has the ‘war on drugs’ created more problems than it has tried to solve?” or “is MDMA really a more dangerous drug than alcohol?” – then EGA is the place for you.
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