Roman Travers: Decriminalise all drugs and do it now

Opinion 01/02/2018
Drug needle. Credit: Getty.

By Roman Travers, RadioLIVE broadcaster.

OPINION: I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, he’s flipping flipped his lid completely!

Can you imagine living in a society where all drugs are decriminalised? What’s the worst that could happen? Would the wheels fall off completely?

If you were able to walk into your local village pharmacy and buy any drug that you desired today – would you do it? Would the fact that all drugs became available with stipulated restrictions, make you want to suddenly try them?

The consequences of addiction and other health detriments may well be what deter most of us from stepping over the line now, rather than the fear of acquiring a criminal record and societal excoriation.

I’m guessing that you and I could get our hands on a number of illegal drugs today if the desire was there. Sadly, so much of the money generated through the sale of illegal drugs circulates through the gangs. These gangs would be bereft of their ‘incomes’ if decriminalisation laws were ever introduced.

Any change to our current laws will not affect my propensity to take drugs. I’ve seen the carnage they cause.

The irony is that many of us talk about drugs and alcohol as if the two are separate.

Talk to any policeman at the front line. Domestic crime dominates a great deal of their time and alcohol traditionally fuels a great deal of this. Ironically, alcohol is an accepted and freely available drug that provides society with almost no benefit whatsoever.

Alcohol is a heavy chemical that takes a long time to be eliminated from the body and is linked to a long list of detrimental attributes that are widely overlooked depending on your point of view. It’s also full of sugar and sugar is a hugely addictive substance. It’s no wonder the addictive aspects make it so bloody hard to give up.

So why would you decriminalise all drugs in New Zealand? Because we have spent over 100 years fighting a losing battle and yet we still pour millions of dollars into enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration when education and rehabilitation are both screaming out for desperately needed funding.

God almighty. When will we learn that positive results will follow positive actions?

Sensible and well-researched policy changes have not only been instigated in other countries; they are also working. I was completely blown away to learn that Portugal decriminalised all drugs in 2001 with the most incredible outcomes.

Among Portuguese adults, there are now just 3 drug overdose deaths for every one million citizens compared to 44.6 per million in the United Kingdom. The other amazing outcome was that Drug-related HIV infections in Portugal have dropped 95 percent.

Here in New Zealand, the figures are ambiguous at best. I asked The Ministry of Health for the 2017 figures for deaths directly related to illegal drug use – and they don’t have them. 

Suffice to say that we had an extraordinary number of deaths caused by the use of synthetic cannabis in 2017.

So back to that question that I know you’ll be asking: will decriminalisation encourage more New Zealanders to try drugs?

Who knows, but The Portuguese Health Ministry estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began in 2001.

Portugal flipped the entire drug control paradigm on its head and it worked. Why don’t we do the same?

It would take a brave and intelligent government to do this.

When was the last time we had one of those?

Roman Travers is a broadcaster for RadioLIVE.