A GREENS push to put harm minimisation ahead of criminalisation in the illicit drug debate will find few supporters in the conservative stronghold of Wagga.
And that’s a pity, because it’s a debate this community and this nation desperately needs to have.
The war on drugs has been lost, hopelessly mired in politics and a skewed public perception about the type of person that uses recreational drugs.
Each weekend at parties, pubs and lounge rooms in Wagga, illegal drugs are widely consumed.
Most of those involved don’t view themselves as addicts or overt risk-takers. They make a rational decision to take a substance for a desired effect and they enjoy how it makes them feel.
The hand-wringing from politicians and sections of the media in the wake of every high-profile overdose death reinforces the yawning gulf between the drug-takers and the lawmakers.
It’s critical we send a strong message to young people about the real dangers of drugs. But we must avoid straying into hyperbole.
If we demonise drugs, if we send the message a simple toke on a spliff will instantly transform young people into gutter addicts, they will soon realise we are scaremongering.
Because when they do experiment with marijuana (as about one in five Australian teens do), and feel similar effects but with less hangover than experimenting with alcohol, that approach will suddenly ring very hollow. And they will stop believing the anti-drugs message forever.
This will render them susceptible to trying harder, more dangerous drugs like cocaine, ice, ecstasy and heroin.
While Australia has been at the forefront of the harm minimisation approach, it still treats drug use and possession in a criminal way, thus making criminals of young people for what is essentially a social behaviour.
A criminal conviction can change the trajectory of a young person’s life, closing doors and stripping self-esteem.
Police resources should be funnelled not into chasing users, but on large-scale dealers.
Drug use is dangerous. Our ultimate goal should always be to reduce its prevalence.
But that won’t happen until we look at the issue with fresh eyes and a courageous heart.