The global system of drug prohibition began in the early 20th century. Since then, a series of international drug control conventions have been established, ostensibly on the basis of trying to reduce the harms that certain drugs cause in the community.
But, at the end of the second decade of the following century, we have a situation in NSW, where aggressive cops are increasingly demanding that mainly innocent youths strip off in front of them to make sure they’re not in possession of what turns out to be cannabis or MDMA for the most part.
Surely, this act – akin to sexual assault – is causing more harm, than these two substances that rank as some of the least harmful drugs, when taken correctly and cleanly. And calls are rising to bring, not just this aspect, but the entire punitive system of dealing with people who use drugs to an end.
Last week, NSW Special Inquiry Into Ice assisting counsel Sally Dowling SC said she’s recommending that the personal possession and use of drugs are decriminalised. And this came just weeks after a leaked document from NSW deputy coroner Harriet Grahame revealed she’s suggesting the same.
No pie in the sky
“With the mounting evidence from experts in health and justice, we should be moving closer towards decriminalising drug use and personal possession,” NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
“Unfortunately, we have a conservative premier and government that refuses to implement policy based on evidence,” she explained. “Instead, they’re intent on pursuing their failed war on drugs and ‘just say no’ approach that unnecessarily stigmatises people who use drugs and puts lives in danger.”
And the NSW Greens drug law reform and harm reduction spokesperson knows all too well that there’s another way, as earlier this year she paid a visit to Portugal, where the personal possession and use of all illicit substances has been decriminalised since 2001.
These days in Portugal, if you’re found to be in possession of what’s deemed a personal amount of any drug, you’re sent to a dissuasion panel. Some are then sent to treatment or given a fine, while most receive no sanction. And drug-related HIV infections and overdose deaths have plummeted.
A healthier alternative
Faehrmann launched Rethink and Reform last month. It’s a campaign pushing for major reforms to NSW drug laws, including the introduction of pill testing, the legalisation of cannabis, as well as the decriminalisation of illegal drug possession and use.
The Greens MLC has been touring the state asking locals to rethink the impact the criminal justice approach is having. And she stresses that the reforms she’s offering are health-based and include a proposal to see pill testing both at festivals and at fixed sites throughout the community.
And Cate, the deputy coroner and the ice inquiry lawyer are in good company. Last year, the Uniting Church launched the Fair Treatment decriminalisation campaign. And it involves the support of over 60 civil society organisations, including the NSW Law Society and the NSW Bar Association.
“People are aware, more than ever, that the war on drugs has failed and that we must take a new approach to reduce the harms caused by drugs,” Ms Faehrmann said in conclusion.
“The Greens will introduce a decriminalisation bill into parliament next year, which we hope will put increased pressure on the government to take action.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.