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Byron Shire
July 20, 2024

Why have NSW Labor failed to hold their promised drug summit?

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Banner drop across from NSW Parliament: ‘Premier, you promised. Drug Summit Now.’

In the lead-up to the 2023 NSW elections, NSW Labor promised the state a drug summit. This followed the detailed Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘Ice’ Report, the results of which the NSW Liberal and National parties had failed to release until a motion calling for the release of the report was likely to pass the upper house. 

Yet Labor has failed to announce their promised drug summit and the frustration could be seen yesterday when Uniting NSW dropped a banner across from NSW Parliament stating ‘Premier, you promised. Drug Summit Now.’

‘We took this action to appeal directly to Premier Minns, on Budget eve, to set a date for the long-promised drug summit in NSW. We need to make clear our frustration at the level of inaction we are seeing on what was a key election promise,’ said Emma Maiden, General Manager External Relations and Advocacy at Uniting NSW.ACT.

‘It’s clear, even as we wait to hear when NSW will be given a date for a drug summit, that real, meaningful drug reform has broad and overwhelming political and community support and is urgently needed.

‘We want to see NSW become a leader, once again, in fair and sensible drug policy.

Banner drop across from NSW Parliament: ‘Premier, you promised. Drug Summit Now.’

‘The people of NSW deserve to know exactly when we will get this long-promised Drug Summit.

‘People with lived experience of drug use and dependency and their families have already waited a very long time for real reform and we are calling, once again, for Premier Minns to urgently set a date.

‘Let’s not forget the drug summit is just a process that we hope will lead to reform. To ask the families of NSW to potentially wait until the end of this parliamentary term (March 2027) for the promised drug summit fails to understand the urgency of this issue.

‘The hope is that the promised summit this year will replicate the format and success of former premier Bob Carr’s five-day parliamentary drug summit of 1999, which led to Australia’s first injecting room in Sydney’s King’s Cross – Uniting’s Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC), among other reforms.’

Queensland has recently introduced drug testing at festivals with the first drug testing taking place at the Rabbits Eat Lettuce Festival over the Easter Weekend and the first fixed-site drug checking (also known as pill testing) service, CheQpoint opened in Bowen Hills, Brisbane on 20 April seeing Queensland move significantly ahead on drug reform compared to NSW.  

In 2020 the NSW Ice Inquiry recommended 109 reforms to provide the basis for NSW to be at the forefront of responding to drugs and reducing drug-related harm in NSW. However, at the time of the reports release the Libneral partries NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said that at least five recommendations would not be supported. These include additional medically-supervised injecting centres, stopping the use of drug detection dogs, placing needle and syringe programs in correctional centres and limiting police strip-search powers so as not to focus on mere drug possession.

The only question now is when will Labor meet their election commitment to hold the NSW Drug summit?

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  1. There is no doubt that drugs have potential to cause harm to individuals and communities, however the current laws based on prohibition greatly exacerbate the harms caused by drugs.

    Prohibition creates a black market, which is untaxed, and funds are often used for nefarious purposes rather than being diverted back to harm minimisation controls such as drug addiction services and industry regulation. The black market has little or no regulation, so users may be exposed to toxic chemicals and have no objective way to determine the concentration or ingredients of a drug. The black market does not impose age restrictions for drug use, and I argue that it would be easier for children to obtain drugs through the black market than through an alternative, legal model (e.g. alcohol laws).

    Individuals who use drugs risk significant legal ramifications, even if an individual does not cause harm to society and otherwise provides a positive contribution to society. This can impact their ability to work and be productive and can cause great psychological harm and economic stress. These impacts are most severe to disadvantaged groups such as Aboriginal people, low income earners, and people with mental health problems.

    Drugs can cause impairment and cause people to drive unsafely. I strongly support laws against driving while impaired by any drug, lack of sleep or any other reason because such people put themselves and others at risk of harm. However, it is a well-known fact that roadside tests for some drugs such as cannabis can return a positive result for people who used that drug during the past days and even weeks, and are not impaired. Yet people who have tested positive for drugs during roadside testing, and who otherwise have not inflicted any harm or risk of harm, inevitably suffer very harsh penalties which cause them great harm and reduces their productivity. Roadside drug tests are being used as an extension of the prohibition laws rather than to reduce harm. This is in stark contrast with alcohol driving laws which set well-researched blood alcohol limits.

    I recognise that some people maintain a sense of moral indignation against people who choose to use drugs – despite the fact that humans have used drugs since we evolved as a species – and feel that drug users should be punished for contravening their moral convictions; However an increasing amount of people no longer feel this way, and indeed there is a strong parallel between prohibition laws and recently abolished laws prohibiting same-sex relationships. Drug prohibition laws are simply not just and are no longer justifiable.

    Prohibition is very expensive to maintain requiring significant police and legal resources and yet consumption of drugs continues to increase. As a tax payer, I am appalled that our collective taxes continue to be spent on maintaining prohibition when it has consistently proven to be ineffective and harmful to individuals and communities. Given the amount of resources and political will that go into enforcing prohibition, a reasonable person should conclude that there are strong vested interests in maintaining this status quo – perhaps the huge untaxed profits harvested by the black market and the population control afforded by the laws may give some guidance into this question. Drug laws based on principles of harm minimisation along with courageous leadership are needed.

  2. Drug laws are instigated and perpetuated by the ignorant and prejudiced, who have been subject to nearly one hundred years of misinformation and propaganda used by governments to promote pharmaceutical industries and facilitate the selective victimisation of the poor and unwanted sectors of our community.
    In fact ‘drugs’ are essential to our wellbeing, and by far the greatest drug-users in our society are the elderly and nursing home patients, who are ironically those most likely to favour the prejudicial application of these ‘anti-drug’ laws.
    As has always been the case these draconian prohibition laws are a godsend to the corrupt politicians and ‘law enforcement’ criminals who benefit from the astronomical amounts of bribes and sales of these black market, tax-free, untraceable assets.

    • Ken reality check, the world population would not survive without prescription drugs, and drug laws to prohibit “hard drugs” are there to protect society from dangerous drugs that even in small doses kill people. And when addicts go on drug induced rampages on our streets and kill innocent people are we supposed to just ignore it?, I don’t think so. Yes these lowlifes do get illegal drugs, but without adequate drug laws in place the problem would be tenfold. Please save us the bleeding heart lecturing.

    • All the world’s corrupt save thee and me – and even thee’s a little corrupt. (With apologies to Robert Owen)


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