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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Legislative Options for Cannabis - Australian Government

Chapter 4.



The US drug policy does not seem to have met many of the policy goals identified in the early part of this report.

First, cannabis policy has not been separated from that of other drugs. Policy makers see only the larger 'drug problem' and have not recognised the need to have different policies for different drugs.

Secondly, in the USA the arguments for the total prohibition of all drugs are highly emotive; arguments about the consequences of drug use have not been separated from arguments about morals. Consequently, this has led to the idea that is implicit in much US drug policy, that all illicit drugs and consequently all drug users are inherently criminal and even evil. The conceptualisation of the drug problem in such uncompromising, black and white terms means that there is little room to make exceptions for arguably 'soft' drugs such as cannabis.

Thirdly, the goals of the 'war on drugs' are not realistic. Kleiman has argued that US drug policy amounts to a 'holy war' against drugs, and as such it is not surprising that the policy goals are far from realistic ([21]Kleiman 1992). Those creating and implementing the US drug strategy do not talk of 'minimising the harm' arising from drug use (as in Australia's National Drug Strategy); rather they aim to completely eliminate drug use, a goal that many would consider to be unreachable.

Finally, in [22]Chapter Two of this report, we have suggested that the harms caused by the drug control regimes themselves should not outweigh the harms prevented by them. With respect to cannabis use it has been argued that the harm caused by control regimes clearly outweighs the harm caused by the drug ([23]Kleiman 1992). It has also been argued that those developing policy in the US have failed to make the distinction between the problems created by drugs and the problems created by prohibition (e.g. [24]Wardlaw 1992). The USA has a number of severe social problems associated with drug use, including forcing users into the criminal milieu, demeaning the criminal law in the eyes of users, increasing the number of people with criminal records, increasing the level of imprisonment, and increasing the level of transmission of the AIDS virus. These problems, and the relatively limited achievements in reducing drug use and drug-related problems, have prompted ever increasing efforts in the 'war against drugs'. It is likely, however, that many of the social problems are created not by the drugs themselves but by the strategy of total prohibition.

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