Policy: Drug Reform


Item 7.2 Drug Reform Policy

NSWCCL welcomes the NSW government proposal for a pre-court diversion scheme affecting people caught in possession of small amounts of illicit substances. Under the changes, NSW Police will be given the ability to issue up to two on the spot Criminal Infringement Notices, which are $400 fines, to adults for personal drug use and small quantity drug possession offences. This is an encouraging first step towards broader drug reform however NSW Police will still retain their discretion in all cases to charge a person and proceed to court. It is still an offence to possess and use illicit drugs. Entry of a conviction or even a bond without conviction goes on a police record with possible drastic long lasting consequences for future employment and visas to enter other countries.

NSWCCL has, for many years, maintained that Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) use should be addressed as a health and social rather than a legal issue. It therefore advocates the transfer of powers relating to drug use from the criminal justice system to the health system. It also supports the policy of harm minimisation, rather than zero tolerance, in treatment of the effects of AOD. 

The Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into crystal methamphetamine and other amphetamine-type stimulants (ICE Inquiry Report) delivered a series of compelling recommendations based on the evidence of a broad range of contributors including from local Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) services, health professionals, people with lived experience, and their families and carers. NSWCCL advocates for the implementation of the ICE Inquiry Report’s evidence-based recommendations in full and without further delay. 

However, NSWCCL suggests that of greater priority in NSW is the holding of a Drug Summit by early 2024, and not, as some have signalled, in a Labor second term.  There is very real suffering and loss of lives in our community now. NSWCCL has  particular reason to be concerned because:

  1. Fentanyl has been an important contributor to the substantial increase in drug overdose deaths in the US in recent decades. Whilst this and other more dangerous analogues are present in Australia, it is presently only on a limited scale. 
  2. There is a failure in Australia’s vaping policy, with severe restrictions on the availability of nicotine for vaping, causing a booming black market for vapes and nicotine. Smoking cigarettes causes more than ten times as many deaths as illicit drugs. 

NSWCCL endorses the following as a non-exhaustive list for drug reform policy: 

That a Drug Summit be held by the NSW government, as a priority. Drug Summits have proven to successfully raise the salience of drug policy issues in the community and provides a great deal of highly relevant information about drug policy for politicians and government officials. The paramount aim should be harm reduction, essentially replacing punitive drug policy with an evidence-based and rights-based approach.

The NSW government should implement the evidence-based recommendations of the Ice Inquiry Report, in full and without delay.  Some of those recommendations are:

  1. greater coordination of alcohol and other drug policy
  2. decriminalisation
  3. a clear focus on priority populations, especially:
    • Aboriginal people who experience disproportionate impacts from ATS
    • rural and regional people
    • people in contact with the criminal justice system.  
  4. The removal of prison as a sentencing option for drug use or possession in quantities consistent with personal use.
  5. Expansion of the Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment (MERIT) program, along with programs to assist Indigenous offenders like Circle Sentencing and the Youth Koori Court, is vital to realising the ambitions of the Inquiry.
  6. An end to discriminatory, inequitable and out of date presence-based drug driving practices targeting medical cannabis patients. NSWCCL agrees that those patients in Australia who are legally prescribed medicinal cannabis should be exempted from prosecution for driving with Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system, unless there is clear evidence of impairment.
  7. An end to the punitive approach to policing at music festivals and other venues, including an end to the use of drug detection dogs and the practice of strip searches. NSW Police search figures showed an average drug dog detection success rate of just 25 per cent during the last decade.  On the contrary, deaths have been attributed to overdose due to a fear of drug dog detection. The same Law Enforcement Conduct Commission review revealed that officers routinely failed to follow proper strip search procedures.  
  8. Implementation of Pill/drug testing, the necessity for which has once again been highlighted by the recent deaths, by suspected overdoses, of two young men at a music festival in Sydney.

NSWCCL maintains that these measures are necessary and require urgent action. It is hoped that longer term the government may undertake even more significant steps.