Social justice and illicit drug abuse: the case for decriminalisation
Illicit drug use is an endemic problem within the Australian community and can cause physical and mental illness amongst users, and emotional trauma within families. It is responsible for many deaths whether accidental or by suicide.
Common reasons for illicit drug use can include any one or more of the following: peer pressure, the desire to explore altered states of consciousness, mental impairment and self-medication.
Often the drug user seeks self-medication as a result of childhood traumas arising from a seriously dysfunctional family or environment. Perhaps trauma has been experienced in later life, or the user simply wants to be able to “manage” the everyday stresses of life.
Statistics are invariably used by parties for or against the decriminalisation of illicit drug use but the figures often are presented with a particular bias which clouds the deeper causes of this societal problem. Increasingly, we read in the media and in medical publications of the link between drug abuse and the user’s lack of groundedness or meaningful connection with the world around them.
Arguments for decriminalisation
Some claim there allegedly is little or no evidence that relevant penal provisions are actually working to reduce the level of drug abuse. It is extremely costly to police and enforce and society can ill afford to spend such resources which would be better committed to increasing funding for rehabilitation programmes. And, most importantly, there are the very large sums of money exchanging hands amongst drug syndicates.
Imprisonment may well be doing more harm than good in modifying behaviour, by hardening offender attitudes to crime. Also, the inmate’s family can suffer psychologically, as well as materially in that it removes that person from the workforce who might otherwise be providing economic and social support.
There are supposedly strong social justice grounds for decriminalising illicit drug use, thus removing the stigma attached to the practice (eg, following imprisonment). And decriminalisation reforms would reduce the risk of human rights abuses, against the individual and their families, within the criminal justice system.
However, from a Christian perspective the argument relating to individual rights is flawed in that it does not recognise the centrality of individual and family responsibility — that is, to oneself as the “temple of the Holy Spirit”, and to one’s family (and vice versa), as well as to the community.
We will look at this side of the argument next month.
Please send comments on the article, or requests for further information about the Commission, to Social.Justice@cg.org.au.