Caught with a tiny amount of drugs, punished harshly
The following letter comes from a contributor who has a rather important story to tell of just how much our stupid draw laws can screw over the majority of drug consumers who are non-problematic and enjoy alternative psychoactives to alcohol. His story is not an isolated one but his desire to tell it is rare.
Most people that receive these sorts of ridiculous convictions are bullied by our justice system into hiding their enjoyment of alternative psychoactives. These are not people who need medical help. They are the average drug consumers – relatively well educated, contributors to society, caring citizens who enjoy a drug other than alcohol.
Ryan Eager has been brave enough to share his story of our drug laws and our justice system playing a game of stigma on his life and goals for the future.
If you know of a similar story or have one to share yourself, please get in touch with Enpsychedelia by sending an email through: email@example.com
The reason why I am writing this is because in October 2013 I was caught with a small quantity of cannabis, a gram to be exact, due to a prior charge of two ecstasy pills in 2009.
Magistrate Williams of Newtown Local Courts deemed it necessary to convict me on a possession charge. At this time I was at university studying Bachelor of Nursing and about to transfer to a Bachelor of Paramedics, while in theory this charge may not completely cease my goal for a future in public health, as it is said that marks on your record will be taken into consideration and context. Due to the competitive nature of paramedics this charge has destroyed any chance of a future in this field as well as the motivation to continue studying in an area that does not guarantee a career in such a field specific to that area of study. Ultimately this charge will shadow me for the rest of my life. Any job I try to pursue, I will need to declare it. Many countries I may plan to travel to, this charge will hinder my ability to do so. The question I wish to put forth is; Is this punishment for this so called crime proportionate to the harm caused by the offence? Is there any harm caused by recreational drug use at all? Is drug use a crime towards the state, or just a measure to control an outdated view on personal wrongdoing?
Enpsychedelia Note: The quantities of substance that Ryan mentions are so low that in most states he would have only received a cautionary notice that would not follow his career. However, the drug laws allow for far too much interpretation by the courts. If someone happens to have their case heard by a prohibitionist judge, they will likely receive a harsher sentence than another judge who may be more understanding. To be clear – the problem is in the legislation, not so much the judges who are given this power by the legislators (politicians) who write the rules. – END NOTE
Unfortunately in Australia, the knowledge, facts and media-attention on this particular subject is dismal, although, I believe that it is an important message for society, which deserves much more public discussion and debate. This will allow Australia to not be left behind on the forefront of an important human rights issue.
To His Honour Magistrate R H Williams,
I am writing to you today not to appeal your sentencing from the 10th October 2013 at Newtown Local Courts but for mere piece of mind and to express my opinion on the justness of your sentence.
I do not expect this letter to receive any notice or achieve anything but simply to try overcome the disempowered state of mind that the system has left me in.
In drafting this letter I delved into the many hypocrisies and failure of the war on drugs, starting from the inability for the law to control demand and supply for prohibited substances, the failure of criminal law in the promotion of public health, public health policy being based on anecdotal accounts from a small proportion of drug users rather than scientific knowledge and facts of pathological and social effects of drugs, the amount of funds put into law enforcement (for prosecuting mainly recreational users) in relation to rehabilitation and education and the fact that the tough on drugs policy is creating criminals in society and perpetuating the organized crime issue.
I have left all this out not due to its irrelevance but I don’t believe that it is new information to you and that facts and information into the specifics of drugs and the hypocrisy in our laws are not beneficial to you.
What I am writing to you about is to do with human rights, laws and justness. My grievance is with these laws and the role in which you play in all this.
I truly believe that the drug issue is not a state crime matter but more importantly a matter of civil rights. My basic understanding of law and the justice system is that laws are founded on the identity of rights and duties of each citizen to be valued individualistically and free from discrimination as well as not impeding the rights and duties of other citizens.
Justice ought to strive to be a combination of equality, fairness and access to human rights, to ultimately achieve protection, freedom and dispute resolution.
The question is where do drug laws fit in to this equation? How can someone altering their own consciousness for a few hours impede the rights and duties of another citizen?
Traditional policing involved a crime being committed whether that is a theft, assault or any type of wrongdoing that causes someone to a VICTIM.
Drug laws do not follow this traditional policing, as there is NO victim.
You may say that people on drugs may commit crimes but this is a non-sequential argument as people not on drugs also commit crime. As there is no pathological response forcing someone to commit a crime on drugs then the explanation of drug laws, as a ‘crime-prevention strategy’ is completely disingenuous. We call this a ‘War on Drugs’ but the criminalisation of people does not represent a war on drugs but rather a war on people and their individual freedom and rights.
If it was a war on drugs then we would see a long-term effect on the supply and demand for the substances. As this hasn’t occurred and the laws have not changed then the only conclusion that can be made is that it’s a war on people. We have a system that has made a group of society a potential subject for criminal conviction. If we put this concept into what we want to achieve through law of freedom, individual rights and free from discrimination, the only thing we achieve through drug policy is the destruction of everything of what a law in a just society sets out to achieve.
In my trial I expressed to you that I have a career ahead of me in the fields of public health as a paramedic. I am unable to continue this career path due to your sentencing.
What struck me is that you laid blame on the consumer for the damaging effects of drugs, labeling it a “rippling out” effect.
As the local court is not the place for a debate I decided not to argue this with you. In my opinion I find it naïve to lay blame on the consumer for this effect as it is the policy that is the catalyst for this “rippling effect”.
I have said before that the details into the inability for the law to control supply or demand is not new information for you but it is without a doubt the policy that has caused the substances to have more damaging social problems than the individual consumption of these substances. As a recreational drug user and a member of society striving to create positive social impact I want to inform you that your sentence will have no lasting impact on my personal behaviour as, “I would rather disobey an unjust law than obey an unjust law” and that the vast majority of recreational users that you and your colleagues have sentenced will feel the same way.
There is a worldwide movement going on at the moment. Portugal ten years ago decriminalized all drugs, achieving great success in decreasing the usage of drugs as well as decreasing the use of drugs in our youth. They offer people who are found with drugs a counselor, social worker, etc. for free which they can deny without criminal penalties or fines.
This in itself shows how policy involving public health can have great success with the absence of criminal law. Uruguay have recently made cannabis legal, selling a gram of weed for $1 to eradicate the black market and the crime that comes with it. In the USA two states (Colorado and Washington State) have legalized cannabis with many more states following suit with decriminalization.
There is a group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) with law enforcement officers having the courage to speak out against prohibition not worrying about the effect that that has on their career. Along with judges and many other credible and high profile members of society who see the hypocrisy and injustice that these laws have on society and human rights.
With all matters on human rights the truth is ultimately exposed.
Discrimination, women’s rights, gay rights are all examples in history and modern times where society have awoken to the injustice in the laws and changed the legal system to accommodate everyone without discrimination and allow equal opportunity in life.
I believe that this issue is along those lines and I am writing to you today to enlighten you of this movement on drug policy change and hope to stir something in you. Just ask yourself as a magistrate when this movement comes through and society awakens to this injustice on human rights, how will you feel for upholding these laws for so long and ruining peoples life’s by subjecting them to a criminal conviction after they have done no harm to anybody?
You may say that it is your job to uphold the laws that society has set, you may say that you are doing your job and it is not for you to interpret these laws, but ask yourself are these laws up to date in our society’s is setting or are external special interests forcing these views onto society?
Drug laws have been in place for over 100 years and how far has it come to altering social behaviour to these substances? When will these laws change to finally combat the issue of drug abuse without inhibiting individual freedom and rights? As I have said above when this movement arrives it will be you the guilt will reside with.
Thank you to Ryan Eager who has contributed this post. His story is important, because it highlights the true stigma and very real victims of prohibition. This is not someone who was an addict or someone with a drug problem, but rather someone with an alternative taste in psychoactive substances to our generally accepted (and widely problematic) alcohol.
If you have a story to tell, please get in touch with Enpsychedelia.
In Lak’ech Ala K’in