Attorney General Mark Speakman has finally proposed a response to the 2020 recommendations of the Special Commission into the Drug "Ice" (Ice Inquiry). His proposal is that individuals caught with illegal drugs for personal use would face a $400 fine or health treatment instead of being brought before the Court.
NSWCCL is pleased to finally see a response from the Attorney General. We are heartened to see his recognition that the current approach to drug policy in NSW is "clearly not working".
However, we are disappointed to see that the Attorney General has chosen a path forward which is only a partial response to the sound and evidence based recommendations of the Ice Inquiry.
The Attorney General’s proposal only partially addresses recommendation 12 (which called for up to three diversions to treatment without a fine), while continuing to reject recommendation 11, calling for decriminalisation of use and possession of drugs for personal use, out of hand. The proposal says nothing about recommendation 5, which ‘as a matter of priority’ called for the development of a whole of government alcohol and other drugs policy.
The Ice Inquiry noted that '[r]ecognising illicit drug use as a health and social problem rather than a criminal justice issue is a fundamental first step'. Unfortunately, this first step has not been taken as drug possession will remain criminalised under the Attorney General’s proposal. NSWCCL continues to call for the decriminalisation of the possession and personal use of drugs and calls on the government to take seriously the challenge from health and policy experts to treat drug use as a public health problem outside of the criminal law.
Imposing a fine on individuals who do not attend diversionary treatment will exacerbate the negative stigma associated with drug use. It will also contribute to the disadvantage and poverty that can be associated with drug addiction while allowing wealthier users to avoid treatment by paying a fine.
Nonetheless, the Attorney General's proposed reforms are an improvement on the current position which remains out of step with community attitudes on drug use. We join the Law Society of NSW in calling for the Attorney General's proposed reforms to be implemented without delay.
While these reforms remain too little, too late, they will prevent unjust incarceration for something that should not be criminalised until the government has the courage to fully implement the evidence based recommendations of the Ice Inquiry.