Geraldton residents and Gov ministers debate drugs

Tamra CarrGeraldton Guardian
Geraldton lawyer George Giudice believes governments should treat drugs the same way they treat alcohol.
Camera IconGeraldton lawyer George Giudice believes governments should treat drugs the same way they treat alcohol. Credit: Tamra Carr The Geraldton Guardian

A Geraldton lawyer has called for the complete legalisation of all illicit substances — including heroin, meth and cocaine — a move he says is the only way to stop the poor and addicted from stealing to feed drug habits.

George Giudice, a criminal defence lawyer also trained in economics and legal philosophy, said there was too much public reliance on the courts to address substance abuse and there needed to be a complete overhaul in how governments and communities think.

“People are always saying the magistrate should just lock them up,” Mr Giudice said.

“But how many prisons are we going to build? The use of stuff like meth is just so widespread.

“Test the sewage to find out how much of it people are using, you can’t get all that contamination from a few people.

“My house has been burgled and I know it’s very annoying and it’s a violation, but the causes need to be addressed.”

The 64-year-old said drug legalisation would drive down prices due to increased accessibility, and proper regulation would lead to less toxin-related deaths and more consumption in “safe” amounts.

He said treating drug use as a crime and perpetrating a “war on drugs” had been a complete failure, comparing the endeavour to American Prohibition.

“That was the best thing the American Government could have ever done for the mafia,” Mr Giudice said, referring to criminal gangs which had profited from peddling alcohol during the 1920s.

“What we need to do is treat drug use the same way we treat alcohol.

“The funny thing is, alcohol is a huge problem.

“I’ve probably represented six or seven women who killed their husbands because of domestic violence driven by alcohol abuse.

“They were subject to incredible violence in the home.

“Then you have all the alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents, one-punch deaths.

“Alcohol abuse is looked at with emphasis on health and we should give drugs the same sort of treatment.

“It’s time to try something different, but of course that won’t get lawmakers any votes.”

Mr Giudice also noted that drug use was not strictly a poverty problem and people within all economic stratas were abusing substances.


Ex-police officer Bob Hall believes more needs to be done to address reasons people turn to drugs in the first place.
Camera IconEx-police officer Bob Hall believes more needs to be done to address reasons people turn to drugs in the first place. Credit: Tamra Carr The Geraldton Guardian

Former police officer and Geraldton resident Bob Hall partially agrees with lawyer George Giudice’s proposal to look at substance abuse through a health lens.

But Mr Hall, who served as an officer for 37 years, does not believe legalisation will curb drug-related crime.

Mr Hall said he was not convinced any controlled practice would reduce overdose risk or prevent people from behaving as they regularly do.

“I certainly can understand where George is coming from,” Mr Hall said.

“From his side of the fence, he can see the failings of the system. But I think you need to look at the causal issues behind why people seem to have lost capacity to function as normal and not have to live on highs.”

Mr Hall said he believed depression, financial strain, general pressure and the inability to ask for help were reasons behind drug use and he agreed courts could not bear full responsibility.

“Of course, some punishments aren’t as good as they should be,” he said.

“But there’s not enough space for all those prisoners and there’s probably not enough programs.

“I think we need more health professionals to help people work through their problems, but it’s a very delicate thing.

“You’re dealing with humanitarian issues.”

Mr Hall said he had seen some “extreme” drug-related crime, but has also observed lasting psychological affects on users, including loss of identify, friendships imploding and a sense of isolation.

“At the end of the day, people are accountable for their own actions,” Mr Hall said.

“But you have to ask, just why are we doing this?”


Police Minister Michelle Roberts says making drugs cheaper would be a complete disaster.
Camera IconPolice Minister Michelle Roberts says making drugs cheaper would be a complete disaster. Credit: The Sunday Times, - Justin Benson-Cooper/The Sunday Times

Since last July, Mid West-Gascoyne police have pursued 942 drug offences, including possession, sales and manufacturing charges.

Through the courts, offenders in 91.8 per cent of cases were punished.

Police Minister Michelle Roberts said the WA Government held a very strong anti-drug view.

“Drugs are dangerous, and they cause untold harm and misery in our community.

“Drugs don’t just drive property crime, they also drive crimes against the person.

“Drugs like methamphetamine dramatically change personality and behaviour.

“Individuals become violent and commit crimes against the person such as assault including family assault.”

Ms Roberts added that legalising illicit drugs and making them cheaper would be a “disaster”.

The State would not give children ideas that taking substances such as meth was OK.

“We must do all in our power to stop our young people to ever take these dangerous and life-destroying drugs in the first place,” she said.

In 2017, the State introduced a $171.4 million Methamphetamine Action Plan to disrupt supply and better support the addicted, after a 2016 survey indicated people were most concerned about meth.

The plan includes funding early intervention treatment facilities, specialist services in regional areas, improving drug education in schools, rehab for prisoners and increasing roadside drug testing.

“We’re providing better support to communities and families affected by the devastating impacts of meth and other drugs, with additional investment in treatment facilities and expanding drug services across the State,” Ms Roberts said.

“The Mental Health Commission funds a number of services in the Mid West and Gascoyne region to help reduce the demand and harms associated with alcohol and other drugs, including methamphetamine.”


WA Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook.
Camera IconWA Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook. Credit: The West Australian, Simon Santi The West Australian

Australian governments have already adopted a more health-focused approach to drug use, including pill-testing trials at festivals, a practice whereby professionals analyse the contents of drugs to discourage users from consuming pills with unknown or dangerous toxins.

While this initiative has been firmly rejected in WA, the State does agree with giving addicts clean injecting equipment and safe disposal of syringes and needles, a service provided locally by Midwest Community Alcohol and Drug Service.

Through the Mental Health Commission, Geraldton receives $3.837 million to run MCADS, as well as Hope Community Services.

Funding also provides for a 22- bed residential rehabilitation centre in Geraldton.

Health Minister Roger Cook described addressing problems related to drug use as “complex” but said throwing out existing laws was out of the question.

“It involves a combined effort from government, the non-government sector and the community to ensure significant gains are made to prevent and reduce drug-related harm,” he said.

“The McGowan Government has a number of strategies that complement each other to address drug use in Western Australia and is not considering weakening illicit drug laws.”

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