The way to ultimately stop the never-ending war on drugs that has taken a toll on millions of people worldwide is to legalise and regulate all drugs - including in Australia.
That's the view of best-selling author Antony Loewenstein, who spent more than four years on the front lines of what he calls the deadliest war of modern times while researching and writing the new book Pills, Powder and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs.
And while Mr Loewenstein, who will launch the book in Canberra on Thursday, believes Australia will likely never be a global leader on drugs policy, he thinks the ACT is well-placed to lead reform within the country.
Mr Loewenstein acknowledged that the idea of legalising and regulating all drugs "in the current context, seems crazy".
But he said the logical first step was legalising cannabis for personal use - something members of the ACT Legislative Assembly are already considering here after a proposal from Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson.
"I think the key reason to talk about legalising and regulating all drugs, which I clearly acknowledge is a process that won't happen next week, is that you remove the vast bulk of the influence of criminal networks," Mr Loewenstein told the Sunday Canberra Times.
"That is why the drug industry now, globally, is worth about half a trillion dollars every year. It's an insane amount of money, often going to horrible criminal networks."
Mr Loewenstein said there was growing worldwide evidence of the benefits an end to the prohibition of illicit drugs would bring. One example was a 2018 Harvard University study that found legalising drugs and instead taxing and regulating their sales would save governments in the United States alone US$106.7 billion each year.
He said the war on drugs around the world had only led to surging levels of drug addictions, and in some places, mass incarcerations and extreme violence.
"A lot of the money that would be saved by not investing in a militarised, police-led drug war and building prisons to put people in for non-violent offences would instead go into education and health," he said.
"No one is saying, including me, that people in a legalised and regulated drug market wouldn't have problems with drugs. Some still would.
"What I'm arguing and showing through various examples around the world is that the current model has caused so much carnage that it's surely time to look at an alternative."
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Mr Loewenstein said most Australian politicians didn't want to go near the issue of legalising drugs because they didn't see it as a vote-winner, and there was typically backlash from tabloid media.
But he said the ACT had "a history of being brave" on the issue. This included proposals in the 1990s for a heroin prescription service and the country's first safe injecting room, both of which were scuttled by opponents including then-prime minister John Howard. Safe injecting rooms have since begun operating successfully in Sydney and Melbourne, with no deaths, and the ACT government is again considering opening one.
More recently, Canberra's Groovin the Moo music festival hosted the country's first two pill-testing trials. At both trials, people disposed of pills that were found to contain potentially deadly chemicals.
Mr Loewenstein said he believed the legalisation of cannabis was inevitable, and the ACT's history in leading the conversation on drug policy reform meant it was well-placed to then lead a push within Australia for wider changes.
"I would very much like to see politicians in the ACT, who have a history of being brave on this issue, advocate for a legal and regulated drug system," he said.
- Antony Loewenstein will launch Pills, Powder and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs at The Shine Dome in Acton from 6pm on Thursday. The event is free but bookings are required through Eventbrite.