The arrest of a 14-year-old Australian boy in Bali on drugs possession charges will do nothing to reduce drug use in Australia or Indonesia, according to senior legal figures.
The teenager from Newcastle was arrested on Tuesday (4 October) over allegedly buying $25 dollars worth (6.9 grams) of marijuana. He is currently being detained in a Bali prison cell and facing threats of up to 12 years prison.
"It's not just ludicrous but traumatic and damaging for the young boy involved," said the national president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Greg Barns.
Barns has been advocating for years along with other legal leaders, including former NSW director of public prosecutions Nick Cowdrey QC and former ACT Supreme Court judge Ken Crispin, for the decriminalisation of drugs.
They argue that the possession and use of small amounts of illicit drugs should be treated as a health and social issue and kept out of the resource-drained criminal justice system so that the wrong people don't end up in jail.
"That a person of any age, let alone a vulnerable 14-year-old boy, is arrested and faces jail for possessing a small amount of cannabis in Indonesia is simply cruel and inhumane." said Barns, adding that Indonesia tolerates Bali tourists' excessive alcohol abuse, "which is far more harmful in overall health terms than the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis".
The current policy is also said to keep the drug trade underground, allowing mafia organisations to control it and make huge amounts of money that is reinvested into organised crime.
A June report from an international commission on drug policy (which includes Richard Branson, Kofi Annan and various former heads of state) argues for the de-criminalisation (not "legalising") of drug use, and experimentation with legal models that would undermine organised crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug users in need.
The director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent's Hospital, Alex Wodak, said such commission meetings and reports have made it clear that significant international drug law reform is inevitable and that global support for drug law reform is accelerating.
Wodak calls for government to look to countries like Portugal, which decriminalised low-level consumption of illicit drugs in 2001, and now weighs drugs in the course of normal police work to determine whether a person is (under statutory limits) a ''drug trafficker'', a ''recreational user'' or an ''addict'' and, as such, whether they are referred to the criminal justice system or assessed by a specialist arm of the Health Department.
The process (in operation for 10 years) has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which are now among the lowest in the EU, according to public policy research organisation The Cato Institute.
Drug policy experts attribute such positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese Government to offer treatment programs to its citizens.
"Young people must be kept out of jail wherever possible," said Barns. "If they have a drug problem, society must have health initiatives for early intervention, not policies that place them in jail with hardened criminals to serve apprenticeships in crime."