Decriminalisation can help fight the war on drugs

Shaun Shelly, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health UCT Addictions Division is also the organiser of the Drug Policy Week. he chats to John Maytham about finding new ways of fighting the war on drugs.

Top cop, Major-General Jeremy Vearey, was reported in the Cape Times this morning supporting a move towards decriminalising drugs.

Research has shown that pouring resources into anti drug law enforcement and arresting low level drug users is not solving the drug problem.

Shelly agrees new solutions need to be found. He says the Portuguese model is a useful first step. Portugal decriminalised drugs in 2001.

They took the money used on drug law enforcement and channelled it into methods of helping people with substance abuse problems.

So if you are caught with drugs, you are referred to what is called a dissuasion group. There are representatives from law enforcement, a social worker, a psychologist, and they will talk to you about what is going on in your life and why you use drugs and try and assist you.

Shaun Shelly, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health UCT Addictions Division

But, he says, the choice to receive treatment remains up to the individual. And you do not get a criminal record.

Shelly says we can definitely learn lessons from the Portuguese model. Evidence shows that arresting people for drug use in South Africa has not reduced substance abuse at all.

It certainly has not been a disaster where everyone suddenly started using drugs, and in fact the age of users has gone up. While there was a slight increase of users in general, there has been much less problematic use.

Shaun Shelly, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health UCT Addictions Division

Shelly says there is no research to show what the affects of full drug legalisation would be.

It is certainly worth looking at in the future, but I don't think South Africa is ready for that, and I don't think there is a robust model for that at this stage.

Shaun Shelly, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health UCT Addictions Division

Listen to the interview below:

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