Drug Law Reform and Harm Reduction
The Social Justice Forum (SJF) is supporting 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 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
More than 40 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, community welfare, specialist research and other bodies – from NSW, ACT, nationally and overseas. More organisational partners are being sought.
Uniting is leading this evidence-based campaign on behalf of the wider church. 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) for a good summation of the case.
"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 communities.
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 or increase drug-related crime. But it does 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.
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, and towards decriminalisation of personal use of drugs.
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.
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