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 (in the Fair Treatment alliance - see Our partners tab below) 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 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 worldwide 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
- less harm to families of drug users
See highlights of our June 2018 Sydney event on Portugal's reforms and why they're a good model for Australia.
A wide range of respected non-government/not-for-profit organisations are already engaged as partners in the campaign in the "Fair Treatment Alliance for drug law reform". See Our partners below for the full list.
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. And read what Portuguese expert Dr Manuel Cardoso had to say about his country's reforms and their impacts, and what Australia could do. And see some highlights of our June 2018 Sydney event on Portugal's reforms.
"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 - it deters seeking treatment, and it hurts low-income and vulnerable users most of all.
Our campaign does not seek the full "legalisation" of personal use of currently illegal drugs, nor the decriminalisation of their sale or supply. Some of our individual partner organisations may seek these outcomes, but the partnership as a whole does not seek more than our unanimously shared aims at this point.
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, and improve business and community amenity. For example, 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.
11/8/18: Norway wants to decriminalise drugs VICE News
8/6/18: Global expert from Portugal calls for drug decriminalisation in Australia Sydney Morning Herald
10/1/18: Attitudes to drug use must change: report Global Commission on Drug Policy media release
9/12/17: Drug expert says Sydney must lift its harm reduction game South Sydney Herald
31/10/17: Safe drug injecting room trial in Melbourne's inner north Herald Sun
6/10/17: MPs urge drug decriminalisation after trip to Portugal The Australian
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 resourcing of evidence-based drug treatment policies, and for ending the imposition of criminal penalties for personal possession and use of drugs. This list will be revised as new partners are added.
Represented in the Alliance (from NSW, ACT, Australia and overseas) are specialist researchers, drug treatment and referral professionals, doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, lawyers, law enforcement professionals, students; health, community, charity, civil liberties, human rights and social equity organisations; drug users and their families and friends; and faith-based groups - Anglican, Catholic and Uniting.
Fair Treatment alliance for drug law and policy reform - current partners (55)
- 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
- Community Restorative Centre
- 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
- International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies
- 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
- National LGBTI Health Alliance
- 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
- Women's Legal Service NSW