Flat White

Pill testing: an indulgence for the elites

29 January 2019

12:46 PM

29 January 2019

12:46 PM

Total and unwavering prohibition. That is the future of sensible drugs policy.

No one could claim that the pill testing debate has been a sensible one. It has been dominated by fashionable “expert” opinion, emotions, and a whole slew of politicians whose drug use somehow qualifies them as the best voices to listen to in a febrile environment.

At the heart of this debate, there is a strange noise which has been reverberating from decade to decade since the 1970s. It is educated and reassuring; it’s from the nice suburbs of Armadale and Hunters Hill. It is as Oxbridge as Stephen Fry and as Australian and David Koch. ”. It is the doctors’ wives of the leafy suburbs and some of their hubbies, too.

It is the echo of a clear and soothing voice calling for an end to the “war on drugs.

Now, I have no earthly idea what they mean by that. Anyone paying attention knows that if there has been a war on drugs in this county, it has been a war fought with pillows and nerf guns. And at every single stage, weak politicians have been declaring absolute and unconditional surrender.

At the moment our judicial system is unwilling to enforce strong repercussions onto drug offenders. Time and time again drug pushers are given lenient sentences which do not reflect community expectations. Legislators are obsessed with making laws that are about rehabilitation first and justice for decimated families a very distant second. The communities which are being torn apart by wave after wave of narcotics are being further marginalised and ignored – abandoned by elites addicted to academic novelties.


The argument made for pill testing is poor. It assumes that there are bad drugs and good drugs, and that we can test away the bad drugs and that what is left will be safe. If only we would give into the reasonable pill testing argument, then people would be free to enjoy the good fruits of meth labs with the promise “you truly shall not die”.

This is absurd. Not least of all because the vast, yes the overwhelming, majority of people who end up in hospital because of drugs are there because of the drugs themselves and not because of any nasty additives that are put into them (though they obviously don’t help). Test all you like. Pure pills kill.

It is no surprise that the leading advocates of pill testing are the same people who would like to see a carte blanche legalisation of drugs. These advocates shamefully manipulate social grief, that pain we feel at the loss of young life, and hope that people will be blinded to reason by a veil of tears. They do this because they know that pill testing is not a medical solution to drug-induced death. They do this because they know that pill testing is their best chance to change a culture of opposition to illegal and life-destroying drugs.

These people are the leading figures of a kind of liberalism which has been rotting the fabric of western civilisation. It is a strange fusion of the libertine left and the libertarian right. It is the prioritisation of the individual. There is a willing ignorance to the real world, where love and community and obligation are the most important things – a place where freedom means the freedom to live a life in harmony with the common good.

Pill testing advocates who say that the war on drugs has failed are talking crap. Drug prohibition isn’t about ending all drug use. It’s about limiting drug use as much as possible. Prohibition is not about going up to people whose lives have been crippled by drug addiction and throwing them in prison. Of course, they should be helped, of course, they should be given medical attention. It is about looking at the people who make and sell drugs and treating them as urban terrorists. Because that is exactly what they are.

And from time to time there are voices in the wilderness who are willing to put themselves on the line. When they do the community applauds them. Brett Whiteley, the then Liberal member for the Tasmanian seat of Braddon, did this in 2016 by advocating a zero-tolerance policy for drug use on welfare. Whiteley wasn’t interested in subsidising drug use through the back door of Centrelink. Nor did he want to see welfare recipients continue to be the easy targets of the drug trade. He represented one of the ten lowest socio-economic seats in Australia and the response from people in his own region was wholeheartedly positive. But the opposition that came from parts of Sydney and Melbourne was ferocious.

There’s a similar sort of divide in the current pill testing debate. Common sense is good policy… until it affects the cultural elite. So we keep drugs illegal everywhere else, but music festivals are, for whatever reason, to become unpoliced silos for drug use. (Why we would want these places, where teenagers are already dying, to have a laxer attitude to drug use is a question in of itself).

But that can’t be the end of the story. Why would only music festivals have access to pill testing facilities? Why not have them more freely available? Why not have them on beaches or near schools (as with the Victorian Labor government’s drug injecting room in Richmond)?

Clearly, pill testing is disingenuous. It is a soft on crime, blind to injustice policy that, if implemented, will end up doing a great deal of harm. Do tough policies sometimes hurt? Of course, they do. Just not as much as weak ones. The war on drugs is a just war and one that a truly kind and compassionate society would be willing to win.

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