Drug Law Reform and Harm Reduction
About the campaign
Uniting Social Justice Forum (SJF) is taking part in a campaign for drug law reform to reduce the harm from illicit drugs. We and our partner organisations want to see personal drug use treated as a health and social issue, not one for the criminal law.
This follows a resolution by the Uniting Church in Australia NSW and ACT Synod in April 2016, approving its congregations and services to advocate for:
- increased investment in harm reduction and demand reduction strategies; and
- further measures to decriminalise individual possession and use of small amounts of illegal drugs (not to decriminalise the illegal supply of drugs).
Good evidence suggests these policies will lead to:
- fewer lives lost
- better health outcomes
- less drug-related crime
- better opportunities for turning lives around
- better business and public amenity - fewer syringes in the street
- less harm to families of drug users
51 respected non-government/not-for-profit organisations are already engaged as partners in the campaign. They include health, medical, nursing and paramedical, drug treatment, faith-based, legal, social equity, civil liberties, Aboriginal, community welfare, specialist research and other bodies – from NSW, ACT, nationally and overseas. More organisational partners are being sought.
Uniting is coordinating this evidence-based campaign on behalf of the wider church and our partners. A key element of the campaign is to inform and engage congregations in NSW and the ACT.
The campaign draws on expertise of people working in the field - including medical staff at Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, Sydney.
See this short video from Australia21 (one of our partners - see list below) for a good summation of the case for reform.
"Decriminalisation" of personal possession and use of small quantities of currently illicit drugs means these actions would not attract a jail sentence nor incur a criminal record. At present, imposition of jail terms and criminal records for personal use is counterproductive and impacts disproportionately on low-income and vulnerable users.
Our campaign does not seek the full legalisation of personal use of currently illegal drugs, nor the decriminalisation of their sale or supply.
Decriminalisation of personal drug use has been adopted to some extent in at least 26 countries. Worldwide evidence shows it doesn't lead to significantly greater drug use. It also doesn't increase drug-related crime.
But it does reduce drug-related deaths, improve the potential for engaging with treatment and rehabilitation, lessen the strain on families and friendships, reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, improve personal employment prospects and opportunities to turn lives around. See the evidence from Portugal.
A majority of Australians believe people who use small quantities of illicit drugs should not be dealt with through the criminal justice system but by cautions, referrals to treatment, fines or other penalties not involving jail terms or criminal records.
Research worldwide shows that demand reduction strategies (including education and information), and harm reduction strategies (including treatment and safe use facilities) have helped to engage drug users with support and effective treatment, improving the chances of saving lives and improving health outcomes.
This campaign does not propose a reduction in enforcement resources, but their reallocation away from pursuing and convicting personal users and towards pursuing and convicting drug producers and suppliers.
Supporters are encouraged to write or email to their NSW MP or ACT Assembly MP to support legislative and policy reforms to increase support for demand and harm reduction strategies, and to treat personal drug use as a health and social, not criminal, matter.
One suggested mechanism for reform could be to convene a multipartisan drug policy summit which could make recommendations and present draft legislation to Parliament towards achieving these aims.
Other ways to take action.
28/5/17: AMA calls for 'mature conversation' over decriminalising drugs to reduce harms ABC News
25/3/17: Help users, don't punish them says top cop as war on drugs fails Daily Telegraph
20/3/17: Time to decriminalise drugs: report AAP / SBS
27/2/17: Experts say ice epidemic not a criminal issue AAP / Sky News
11/2/17: Why Australia needs more supervised injecting centres Sydney Morning Herald
19/1/17: Drug prohibition is killing young Australians Huffington Post Australia
8/1/17: Police against drug prohibition: an interview with LEAP's Greg Denham Sydney Criminal Lawyers blog
7/7/16: Uniting begins campaign to rethink illegal drug policies South Sydney Herald
21/4/16: Uniting calls for a rethink on drugs Uniting media release
Below is a current list of partners in our campaign for better support for evidence-based harm and demand reduction policies, and for ending the imposition of criminal penalties for personal possession and use of small quantities of drugs. This list will be revised as new partners are added. It includes health and medical bodies, including specialist research centres at several universities as well as national and international health organisations, drug treatment and referral bodies and specialist charities; professional associations representing nurses, paramedics, health and community workers, legal and law enforcement professionals; organisations representing drug users, their families, friends and communities; social equity, civil liberties and tertiary student organisations; Aboriginal and faith-based groups - Anglican, Catholic and Uniting.
- Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation
- Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT
- Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs
- Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine
- Australian Community Workers Association
- Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
- Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations
- Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League
- Australian Medical Students' Association
- Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy
- Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace
- Centre for Research Excellence into Injecting Drug Use, Burnet Institute
- Centre for Social Research in Health, University of New South Wales
- Community Legal Centres NSW
- Discipline of Addiction Medicine, University of Sydney
- Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australasia
- Drug Policy Australia
- Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales
- Exodus Foundation
- Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform
- Family Drug Support Australia
- Harm Reduction Australia
- Health Services Union NSW
- Hepatitis ACT
- Hepatitis Australia
- Hepatitis NSW
- Human Rights Watch Australia
- Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales
- Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Australia)
- Law Society of New South Wales
- National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction, Flinders University
- National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University
- New Zealand Drug Foundation - Te Tuapapa Tarukino o Aotearoa
- NSW Bar Association
- NSW Council for Civil Liberties
- NSW Council of Social Service
- NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association
- NSW Users and AIDS Association
- Public Affairs Commission, Anglican Church of Australia
- Public Health Association of Australia
- Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales
- Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia
- Ted Noffs Foundation
- Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW/ACT
- Uniting (including: Social Justice Forum; Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, Sydney)
- Wayside Chapel