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by The Government Department of European WA Office. . 140 reads.

WA Office | Repeal "Drug Decriminalisation Act"


There is a lot of say with regard to this Act. The Office will focus on three main points.

The Act is poorly written to the degree that it does not do what it wants to do. The definition of “simple drug possession” in the Act is ineffective at actually stopping member nations from de facto criminalising the possession of drugs. This is for two reasons.

First, the target does not permit distribution of drugs for “monetary or other forms of material gain”. The intent of possessing a drug is difficult to show one way or the other. In the real world, nations set presumptions to distribute on certain quantities: eg if you are carrying 30 kilos of cocaine, the courts most anywhere will presume that you are distributing it. Member nations can easily treat almost all possession as criminal by setting small presumptions to distribute. Eg Misuse of Drugs Act 1973 s 17 (setting a presumption to distribute, inter alia, as low as 15 grammes of cannabis or 3 grammes of cocaine) (Singapore).

Second, the target’s bar on “providing drugs to an individual without their consent or otherwise with malicious intent” is extremely poorly written. The meaning of the word “malicious” in law is not “harmful”. Yet, harm has nothing to do with it: malice is “a state of mind... usually taken to be equivalent to intention or recklessness[;] it does not require any hostile attitude”. “malice”, Oxford Dictionary of Law (5th edn, 2003). The “malicious intent” clause really means that possessing drugs with intent or reckless intent is not part of “simple drug possession”. Because only simple drug possession is safeguarded against, and because most possession is intentional, this definition protects vanishingly few from criminal action.

Decriminalisation alone does not benefit member nations. What needs to be understood here is that drug decriminalisation must go with other things for it to work. Drug addicts, without treatment, are more likely to commit property crimes (from need to secure money to buy more drugs), kill or injure people recklessly (under the influence thereof), or injure themselves (from eg overdoses). The purpose of decriminalisation and more recent views on dealing with drugs is not merely to decriminalise, but to ensure treatment options are not ignored from stigma or fear of prosecution.

The resolution does only the former and none of the latter. Thus, the target resolution does almost nothing in actually preventing the emergence of crime. The main purpose is to prevent incarceration. Even pretending that incarceration is the only option, it has three main purposes: rehabilitation, incapacitation, and deterrence. Deterrence is near useless with addicts. But rehabilitation and incapacitation reduce crime levels and improve public safety by striking at its source. Many resolutions have been passed which ensure the humane and effective operation of rehabilitative policies in member states. Eg GA 194 “Treatment of Inmates”, GA 534 “Fair Treatment of Prisoners”, GA 555 “Protecting Imprisoned Youths”, etc. Insofar as there are no treatment centres to go to, it is unclear how the target resolution seeks to reduce drug harms, direct or indirect.

What the target resolution should have been was a single resolution combining decriminalisation with clear treatment options. The original authors have protested that two resolutions would do or that they did not have enough space. Both are wrongheaded: the extreme delay (and inchoate nature of) the treatment proposal leaves us with drug harms and no treatment while space easily could have been found by omitting in the target resolution a preamble almost as long as the operative text.

Treating all drugs identically does not help member nations. There is a strong argument that drugs like marijuana ought to be decriminalised. Treatment for it is readily available, though the need for treatment is relatively low. Its negative impacts also are small. On the other hand, treating other drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs of that sort, is not similarly wise, especially if a drug (eg heroin) could kill a user on first use.

Most real world studies show no major harms from drug decriminalisation. This is because the vast majority of real world evidence deals with cannabis use only. Ayden Scheim et al, “Impact evaluations of drug decriminalisation and legal regulation on drug use, health and social harms: a systematic review”, (2020) 10 BMJ Open (specifically that 91.2 pc of decriminalisation articles are from the USA and 95.6 pc evaluated cannabis reform). The only clear evidence for decriminalisation of all drugs writ large comes from Portugal, where “decriminalization did not trigger dramatic changes in drug‐related behavior because [decriminalisation] largely codified de facto practices”. Hannah Laqueur, “Uses and Abuses of Drug Decriminalization in Portugal” (2015) 40 Law & Social Inquiry 746.

And Portuguese evidence is mixed. The way it is depicted in the media is poor: “the overemphasis... on the reform, and not the concurrent drug strategy which expanded services for drug users in Portugal, has fostered overconfident assertions about [decriminalisation] and a lack of appreciation of... the causal mechanisms [for] outcomes”. Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes and Alex Stevens, “A Resounding Success or a Disastrous Failure: Re-examining the Interpretation of Evidence on the Portuguese Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs” (2012) 31 Drug and Alcohol Review 101, 111. And even a positive view of Portuguese reform cannot escape the need for expanded drug treatment services, ibid, which the target resolution blithely ignores.

Conclusion. The WA Office, in evaluating the target resolution, finds itself disappointed. Before us is a very nice title, in line with the zeitgeist, executed very poorly and with almost malicious disregard for the evidence. Insofar as the target resolution is ineffective it ought to be repealed. Add on top of that total disregard for the sine qua non necessity of addiction treatment and the lack of any well-written drug treatment resolutions forthcoming, the Office confidently recommends a vote in favour of repeal.

Primary author(s): Imperium Anglorum.


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