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Journal Article


Mugford S. Drug Alcohol Rev. 1991; 10(4): 401-415.


Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, Australian National University, PO Box 4, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2601, Australia.


(Copyright © 1991, John Wiley and Sons)






This paper examines the current difficulties being faced in Australia by policy-makers attempting to regulate the non-medical use of illegal drugs, and it is suggested that the difficulties centre upon two aspects. First, existing prohibitions are unsuccessful, with use levels rising and, in some arenas (e.g. cocaine use in the USA), quite out of control. On the other hand, a move towards decriminalization or legalization is difficult because past propaganda has been so vehement that a change now apparently risks sending the wrong messages to young people. This dilemma means that there is no solution, including inertia, which is risk-free, nor is there one free of difficulties. It is thus relevant to think in terms of 'least bad' rather than 'best' when formulating a system to face these problems. The exploration of what this least bad solution might be begins with the examination of the prominent myths (such as 'the drug-free society', 'the evil pusher', 'the user as victim' and 'the young person as cultural dope') that hinder our reasoning. Secondly, by suggesting that, in a climate of increasing crime related to drugs, inability of prohibitions to control that use and escalating health risks attendant on use (including the AIDS problem), the central policy thrust must be harm reduction and damage minimization rather than illusory goals such as widespread abstinence. The paper concludes with a discussion of some relevant evidence on alternative options.

Language: en


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