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April 20, 2024

Stop delaying on drug reform say Law Society of NSW

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Crystal methamphetamine (ice) is a stimulant drug.

The NSW Attorney-General’s proposed drug diversion scheme and the NSW government’s failure to act on the recommendations of the Ice Inquiry from two years ago are drawing criticism.

The Special Commission of Inquiry into the drug ‘ice’ and other drugs was established in response to the impact these drugs were having, particularly in rural and regional communities. It sought to look at ‘Options to strengthen NSW’s response, including law enforcement, education, treatment and rehabilitation responses’.

The Inquiry by Commissioner Dan Howard SC ‘not only recommended pill testing at festivals but also the decriminalisation of personal possession of all illicit drugs,’ commented former magistrate David Heilpern at the time.

‘To add to the pressure, Coroner Harriet Graham completed an exhaustive inquiry into drug deaths at festivals, which pointed in the same direction.’

Instead of acting on the recommendations for drug law reform and stepping up to the challenge of helping communities manage drug issues the NSW Attorney-General has now proposed a drug diversion scheme to give police discretionary powers in issuing fines to people caught with small amounts of currently illicit drugs says Cate Faehrmann, Greens MP and drug law reform spokesperson.  

This ‘will still allow police to continue discriminating against the most vulnerable and is not the solution to reducing drug harm,’ she says. 

‘It’s been two years since the Ice Inquiry handed down its findings and recommendations and instead of taking the action needed to reduce the harms posed by ice and save lives, the Government is proposing a weak alternative.

Statistics compiled by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show that during the five year period 2013–2017, 82.55 per cent of all Indigenous people found with a non-indictable quantity of cannabis were pursued through the courts, compared with only 52.29 per cent for the non-Indigenous population.

‘We don’t support putting discretion into the hands of police because it will mean the most vulnerable will continue to be sent to court. Police disproportionately send First Nations people found with cannabis to court even though they have the discretion not to, so why would this scheme be any different?’ said Ms Faehrmann.

No more delay

The Law Society of NSW is also calling on the NSW Government to act without further delay on the recommendations of the Ice Inquiry to implement a health-focused Special Commission of Inquiry into the drug ‘ice’ approach to battling the scourge of drug abuse.

President of the Law Society of NSW Joanne van der Plaat says ‘The Law Society agrees with the experts called to give evidence during the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug Ice that the current prohibitionist approach is not working. We agree with law enforcement authorities who have said we can’t arrest our way out of drug problems.’

‘It has taken far too long for the Government to act on the recommendations of the Ice Inquiry, and now is the time to make a decision and start implementing programs that will tackle the drug problem in earnest. 

‘Any further delay on a meaningful response to the Ice Inquiry risks further criminalisation and demonisation of drug users who need rehabilitation, not incarceration.’

The Law Society has welcomed the expansion of the Drug Court through a pilot in Dubbo, combined with the construction of a drug and alcohol treatment centre necessary for achieving effective outcomes for drug-related offenders, but Ms van der Plaat says the Government needs to go much further.

‘The adoption of this one recommendation of the Ice Inquiry ignores other initiatives like the 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,’ Ms van der Plaat said.

‘As a lawyer who has long practised in regional NSW, I am convinced it is vital that diversion and support be extended to regional communities. Many regional communities have been ravaged by illicit drug use, and drug law reform that reduces the chance of offenders possessing very small amounts of drugs being criminalised should be actively implemented across the state.

‘Furthermore, given that the Government established the Ice Inquiry in November 2018 in large part to respond to growing use of Ice in our regional and rural towns, their exclusion from justice reforms and rehabilitation services would be absurd,’ Ms van der Plaat said.

Ms Faehrmann agrees pointing ou that ‘The Government has ignored the recommendations of the Ice Inquiry for over two years now despite it bringing together the views of the leading drug and alcohol experts.  

‘The Ice Inquiry report was clear: full decriminalisation, coupled with a much larger investment in health and social services is the solution to the drug crisis in NSW. Anything less is a cop out and ignores the overwhelming evidence handed to the government two years ago,’ said Ms Faehrmann.

‘The Law Society calls on the Government to delay no further, listen to the experts and deliver reforms to help drug users break their dependence and rebuild their lives,’ Ms van der Plaat said.

Alcohol and Other Drugs Support
National 24/7 Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline: 1800 250 015
Counselling Online: counsellingonline.org.au

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  1. It all sounds very complicated but really it’s simple. Follow the money.
    50 years of drug prohibition laws have been singularly unsuccessful at reducing the harm drugs can cause in society, in fact these laws have massively increased that harm. What prohibition has been successful at is creating the 3rd largest industry on the planet; illicit drugs.
    How much of the finest democracy and mainstream media money can buy will the 3rd largest amount of money in the world buy you? Clearly enough to shape govt policy and the mainstream narrative.

  2. There is no doubt that drugs can and do cause massive harm to individuals and society. However, the current prohibition laws exacerbate the harm caused by drugs. I commend the Law Society of NSW for pursing this very important issue.

    • Exactly. Can’t legislate your way out of a social problem. No point attacking the symptom, need to go after the causes.

  3. This same argument is true for a great many other thing too. Like prostitution, firearms, etc
    The problem could come down to an ABC news clip from 2014. Three large shipping containers full of meth from China had been accidentally opened by a trainee customs inspector. They had valid DFAT “do not inspect” stickers with current security numbers in the database. The meth was packaged in those clear plastics zip tied bags that you always saw the police parading on TV when the said they ‘busted a backyard meth lab’. Similar damning things have happened in New Zealand tied to their government. Does anyone remember the US government with Iran Contra, Air America, Afghan poppy fields.

    How can you have the third largest industry in the world while all these governments have high tech intelligence agencies tracking and tracing everything everyone does through our gadgets and they just can’t seem to stop all that money…I mean all those drugs.
    Can’t imagine why decriminalising seems like a catastrophe to them. But that would be a conspiracy theory and we know nobody ever conspires. Which is interesting considering ‘Conspiracy’ is a criminal charge in most western countries.


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