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84-year-old David Penington has been named Victorian of the Year for 2014. Best known for his advocacy of public health in Australia, Penington was largely responsible for the 1980’s ‘Grim Reaper’ campaign tackling the issue of AIDS.

Formerly Vice Chancellor at the University of Melbourne, Penington is perhaps best known for his advocacy of legalising cannabis and ecstasy in Australia and campaigning for safe injecting rooms. Penington proposes a controversial system to the government, that would allow Australians above the age of 16 to access cannabis and ecstasy, granted they sign onto a national users register.

Penington discusses how the system would work:

“When dispensing the substance, pharmacists would also be able to give clients advice and, where necessary, refer them for counselling or treatment.”

Penington has announced that as a result of receiving this award he will continue to campaign for a stronger drug reform.

“We’ve got to find better ways to handle illicit drugs… The reality is that prohibition just hasn’t worked for 100 years and the problems are getting worse. We need to talk about drugs as a health issue so people understand the damage drugs will do to their brains.”

Having been involved with drug policy development for years, Penington has always been open with his extreme concern about crystal meth and the way it is affecting individuals and families “right across the social spectrum.”

In 1995, Penington took part in one of his most influential political debates, regarding Victoria’s ‘war on drugs’. The drug decriminalisation advocate announced that 388,000 Victorians said they had used marijuana in the past year, who were mostly aged between 14 and 34.

”Will we leave these young Victorians at the mercy of rapacious drug traffickers, inevitably to be exposed to the harder drugs over time, or will we make a realistic attempt to attack the vested interests, to break one link with traffickers where we can and to put in place drug education programs which young people will respect, so as to curb their use and abuse of the drug?”


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