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Articles - Law and treaties
Written by Ron Owens   
Wednesday, 17 December 2008 15:34

ORGANISING DRUG LAW REFORM IN AUSTRALIA

A Paper presented to the 8th International Conference on

Drug Policy Reform

Washington, DC, 16 - 19 November 1994

outlining the establishment of the

Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform

and the

Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation

by

Ron Owens, BA

Executive Director, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation

The genesis for the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform and its research and support organisation the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation lies with two committees of the ACT Legislative Assembly; the Select Committee on HIV, Illegal Drugs and Prostitution and the Select Committee on Drugs. These two committee, over a period of two years, presented five reports to the Legislative Assembly of the ACT on drug related issues.

During the course of their inquiries the committees visited all the Australian mainland capital cities and in each city there was a constant, though muted, theme that 'drug prohibition' policies were not working; that the response to drug use, both illicit and licit, should be more caring, more humanity centred.

The Select Committee on HIV, Illegal Drugs and Prostitution, in its 2nd Interim Report, said this about current prohibition policies in Australia:

During the course of its inquiries the committee came to the conclusion that current policy implementation with regard to controlling and/or reducing the use of illegal drugs (ie a policy of prohibition) might not be effective. The committee accepts the international evidence that would suggest that prohibition policies (even where those policies include the death penalty) have not reduced the illegal supply of opioids, have not reduced the number of people taking drugs nor have they been effective in getting people to stop taking drugs. Prohibition policies, particularly in countries like the United States, also actively work against health policies seeking to control the AIDS pandemic.

It became obvious to both committees that the growing failure of the current policy of prohibition is a national, not a regional, one; it is focused at the national level through the National Drugs Strategy and the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy - the Ministerial Council is a peak government body comprising the Health and Justice Ministers from each of the State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments, and includes the Health Minister from New Zealand. The members of the two committees I mentioned believed that if things were going to change then that change must be brought about at the national level; and further that the lobbying and pressuring of governments by concerned politicians was an effective means of bringing about the changes necessary.

It was questioning Australia blindly, that is without any reasoned debate, going down the track of the "War on Drugs" that led concerned Parliamentarians across the country to search for another, better, way to deal with illicit drug use in our society. Parliamentary inquiries into illicit drugs and drug related problems, such as those of the ACT Legislative Assembly and the current inquiries being conducted in both the South Australia and Queensland Parliaments, are effective within their own jurisdictions; but the drug related problems facing Australian society today, however, are cross jurisdictional. And in the search for better alternative drug strategies, it was the need to work in this cross jurisdictional environment and to influence the cross jurisdictional policy makers that gave rise to the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform.

What, specifically, is the Parliamentary Group about? A Charter for Drug Law Reform was drawn up by the Group and launched in Canberra in September last year. As at October 31, 1994 over 85 State and Federal politicians, from across all parties have signed the Charter and over 65 private citizens, academics, lawyers, doctors, jurists, media people, civil servants and ordinary folk have endorsed the Charter.

Fundamentally the Charter seeks to encourage a more rational, tolerant, non-judgemental, humanitarian and understanding approach to people who currently use illicit drugs. Thus the aims of the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform are to minimise the adverse health, social and economic consequences of Australia's current policies and laws controlling drug use and supply.

The members of the Group have recognised the massive size and escalation of the illicit drug trade and the resulting prevalence and power of organised crime. They are also committed to the belief that national and international policies of prohibition have failed to suppress the illicit drug supply, notwithstanding enormous financial and legal resources expended in their implementation. Current drug policies in Australia have led to an escalation of crimes against property and associated crimes of violence; and, in the opinion of the Group, prohibition is a greater threat to personal and community health than a system of controlled availability.

Thus the Group is unequivocally opposed to the policies of prohibition and quite boldly asserts that we are and always have been a drug taking society, and no matter what the moralists, the righteous, the wowsers might say drug use will continue to be a facet of the fabric of our society.

The Group accepts that Australia has obligations under International Treaties and is aware of the tension between the International Treaty on Human Rights and the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, but believes that there is no approach to the use of illicit drugs which will ever provide a drug free community. Some success has already been achieved through adoption of policies giving priority to the minimisation of harm, and there is some positive overseas experience of new approaches to drug law which can provide useful models for Australian reform.

Let me now turn to the establishment of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and offer an organisational model to assist in the pursuit of drug policy reform.

To effectively co-ordinate the activities of the Parliamentary Group a decision was taken early in 1994 to establish a secretariat charged with a number of responsibilities. In March of that year the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation was established at a meeting held at the ACT Legislative Assembly, Canberra and the Foundation was incorporated as an Association in the ACT under the Associations Incorporation Act 1991 in April.

The Foundation held its first formal meeting at Parliament House, Brisbane on 4 July 1994. At that meeting it elected its office bearers and members of its management committee as follows - President, Michael Moore, MLA (ACT); Vice President, Ann Symonds, MLC (NSW); Treasurer, Tina van Raay; Secretary, Ron Owens; committee members, Peter Beattie, MLA (QLD), Prof Bill Saunders, Dr Alex Wodak.

The aims of the Foundation are, of cause, very similar to those of the Parliamentary Group; it also provides research and administrative services, and general secretarial support, to the Parliamentary Group. The Foundation seeks to promote an unequivocal opposition to policies of prohibition with regard to illicit drugs and in their place promote the nation wide adoption of drug policies based on harm minimisation strategies.

In addition the Foundation also provides a number of services to the Parliamentary

Group and its own members including a quarterly newsletter, information on upcoming

local, national and international conferences on drug law reform; access to a current press

clipping service; access to a number of international data bases through the Internet and through CompuServe; and it acts as a resource centre for information and material.

I turn now to an organisational analysis of the Foundation as a means of examining it as model. To operate effectively an organisation needs four fundamentals and these can be identified as:

  • Aims and objectives
  • Membership
  • Strategic Plan
  • Funding
  • In addition there are also a number of important peripherals, such as Rules of Procedure for the conduct of meetings and appropriate legal and financial representation.

    Aims and objectives

    The aims and objectives of an organisation set the context in which it operates, they are its raison d'etre. As such they become reasons why people and other organisations join, so they have an impact on membership. They become the basis for the workload planning of the organisation, and thus form the core of the strategic plan. And they are a platform from which to pursue funding. They should be simple, coherent and logically interconnected; they should also be without any ambiguity or contradiction.

    The aims and objectives of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, which are similar to those of the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform, are set out in Attachment A.

    Membership

    The effectiveness of organisations which work in the area with which we are concerned, which is in reality the realm of political power, is very closely related to its membership; not so much with regard to size, though that has significance, but with regard to standing and influence. The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation is somewhat unique in this area in that amongst its core membership are representatives of the very power brokers we wish to influence, namely politicians. That position is not, in my opinion, an elitist position. We are operating in the real world of real politic, with real power brokers, and must therefore retain our realism and our objectivity.

    I believe it is important to be wary of fringe groups, they are often single issue orientated and often see things very simplistically. On the other hand community groups, such as "grandparents in support of drug law reform" for example, and professional groups, such as "academic for drug law reform", are important because of their community or professional standing.

    One of the major goals of the Australian Drug Law Foundation, during its first year of operation, is the establishment of a number of "professional" sub-groups within the organisation. and I will return to them later in this paper.

    Strategic Plan

    The Strategic Plan is the central working document of an organisation, and it should be a concise enunciation of the organisation's aims and objectives and their practical application over a given time frame. To be effective the plan should be straight forward, easily or readily understood, clear and precise, and should project an achievable workload.

    Basically the plan need consist of

  • only seven major headings for each goal
  • and this is the model we used for the
  • Australian Drug Law Reform
  • Foundation' Strategic Plan. The heading
  • used are:
  • The Goal - A straight forward simple statement of the Gaol to be achieved.

    Aim and Objective

    Aim - A simple statement of what the Goal is to achieve.

    Objective - A statement of why the Goal is to be pursued.

    Achievement Strategy - An outline of how the Goal is to be achieved.

    Timeframe - The period within which the Goal is to be achieved.

    Key Performance Indicators - The means of evaluating achievement levels.

    Was Goal Achieved - An indicator of success/failure.

    Ongoing Strategy - Allows for future planning.

    At the Foundation the plan plays two important roles in the functioning of our organisation. Firstly it is the blue print for the coming year's operations, setting out pre-determined achievable goals and secondly, at the end of the year, it forms the basis for our annual report.

    Funding

    There are two aspects to funding, as we at the Drug Law Reform Foundation have found in setting up a brand new organisation. There is, what can almost become a bureaucratic end in its own right, that is the ongoing search for actual hard cash. The other aspect is, however, much more fundamental and is the only basis from which applications for funding, whatever the source, can be made. And that is an intelligible, well thought out, properly demonstrated fiscal statement of income and expenditure - you need a balance sheet that will stand up to scrutiny.

    The statements of expenditure ought to be under clearly defined headings that are appropriate to what your organisation is about. Income should be similarly identified and, where your funding source includes matched funding grants, you should also identify and cost out any income which is supplied "in kind", eg voluntary labour and the provision of donated services like printing.

    Finally your funding net should thrown as wide as possible taking in all sectors of the broader community; the corporate sector; the public sector; philanthropic organisations, international sources and private donations. Always bearing in mind, however, your own credibility and the potential for that credibility to be compromised by an inappropriate funding source.

    Sub-groups

    One of the important strategies

  • used by the Australian Drug Law
  • Reform Foundation to improve its
  • influence on both the public and the
  • political debate is to establish a number
  • of sub-groups within the Foundation
  • which have standing and influence in
  • particular areas of public policy. The
  • primary objectives of this strategy are to
  • influence the policy directions of the
  • peak legal and medical organisations
  • and to initiate and stimulate academic
  • research of a high calibre.
  • There are five sub-groups being actively pursued at the moment:

    a lawyers sub-group; a doctors sub-group; a nurses sub-group;

  • an academics sub-group and
  • a users sub-group.
  • With regard to the last group, I was approached only last Friday, whilst actually writing this paper, by the Australian Intravenous League, the Australian National body of user groups, if it would be possible for them to become part of the Foundation. And matters have now been set in train to do just that.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion then; there is in Australia a growing swell of rational, reasoned opinion arguing that there needs to be changes in the way in which we deal with the problems posed to our society by the use of illicit, and some licit, drugs.

    In this paper I have attempted to do two things. One, I have attempted to show

    that there is a group of concern politicians at both the State/Territorial level and the

    Federal level in Australia, and a concomitant group of concerned citizens, who are

    committed to influencing governments to change our drug laws to the betterment of our

    society. And secondly I have attempted to describe one model by which politicians and

    concerned citizens can act in concert to bring about change. Attachment A

    AUSTRALIAN DRUG LAW REFORM FOUNDATION

  • President: Michael Moore, MLA
  • Executive Director: Ron Owens
  • PO Box 64, Waramanga, ACT 2611

    Ph 61 (0)6 288 2301 Fax 61 (0)6 288 2719

    E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

    AIMS

    AND

    OBJECTIVES

    OF THE

    AUSTRALIAN DRUG LAW
    REFORM FOUNDATION

    (As adopted by the Inaugural Committee on 11 March 1994)

    Part A:

    AIMS

    Given that the members of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation recognise:

    The massive size and escalation of the illicit drug trade and the resulting

    prevalence

    and power of organised crime;

    National and international policies of prohibition have failed to suppress illicit drug

    supply notwithstanding enormous financial and legal resources expended in

    their implementation;

    Current policies have led to an escalation of crimes against property and associated crimes of violence;

    Prohibition is a greater threat to personal and community health than a system of controlled availability;

    Civil liberties are being eroded in attempts to stem the supply of illicit drugs;

    The fact that drug use will continue in our society;

    Potential profits and pyramid supply structure in illicit drug dealing lead to active

    recruitment of new drug users and active introduction of new products to

  • existing
  • users;
  • Prohibition increases the burden on the criminal justice system; and Prohibition promotes corruption;

    the aims of the Foundation are to:-

  • (a) provide research and administrative services, and secretarial support, to the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform; and
  • (b) promote: -
  • The unequivocal opposition to policies of prohibition with regards to illicit drugs of dependence and psychotropic substances;
  • The nation-wide adoption of drug policies based on harm minimisation strategies;
  • The acceptance of responsibility to reform drug laws, policies and programs; and The establishment of policies that will control production, manufacture and distribution of drugs of dependence and psychotropic substances.
  • Part B:

    OBJECTIVES

    The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation recognises that:

    Australia has current obligations under International Treaties;

    There is no approach to the use of drugs of dependence and psychotropic

    substances

    which will ever provide a drug free community;

    Some measure of success has already been achieved through adoption of policies which give priority to the minimisation of harm;

    There is some positive overseas experience of new approaches to drug law which can provide useful models for Australian reform.

    Therefore, the primary objectives of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation are:

    The urgent adoption of drug policies based on strategies of harm minimisation throughout Australia;

    The establishment and legalisation of readily accessible needle exchange and distribution programs throughout Australia;

    The introduction and maintenance of broad based methadone programs for all

    heroin users seeking this type of assistance;

    The expansion of drug rehabilitation programs in range and number to provide access and choice;

    The provision of politically independent finance and support for properly

    conducted

    scientific studies into the treatment of drug users, or the use and misuse of drugs

    of dependence and psychotropic substances, including alcohol and tobacco; and

    The development of educational programs based on self reliance and sound

  • scientific
  • research.
  • Part C:

    IMMEDIATE OBJECTIVES

    The immediate objectives of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation are:-

    To seek to increase the focus of a National drugs strategy on the reduction of harm associated with drug use:

    To seek the abolition the criminal sanctions for the personal use of drugs of dependence and psychotropic substances throughout Australia;

    To seek the adoption, on a national basis, of the South Australian and Australian Capital Territory expiation notice model for the reform of laws regarding the personal use and cultivation of marijuana;

    To seek the adoption of appropriate medical uses of marijuana and heroin throughout Australia; and To seek the adoption, throughout Australia, of a medical model, including consultation and prescription, for the distribution of selected illicit drugs.

    Part D:

    LONG TERM OBJECTIVE

    The long term objective of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation is to seek a National commitment to undermine the black market and illicit trade in drugs of dependence and psychotropic substances, with its inherent problems, by adopting the following long term goals:

    The reassessment of Australia's commitment to its International Treaties on illicit drugs and psychotropic substances;

    Independent cost-benefit analysis of all policies which seek to resolve the problems of dependence and substance misuse; and Reform drug laws in planned stages with detailed evaluation of such laws at all stages.

     

    Our valuable member Ron Owens has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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