Decriminalisation of personal drug use recommended to ice inquiry

Amanda Lyons

1/11/2019 2:01:59 PM

Counsel assisting the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice will advocate a harm minimisation-focused drug policy.

The NSW Ice Inquiry.
The assisting counsel to the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry will make a number of harm-minimisation based recommendations for the state’s drug policy.

As the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (the Inquiry) draws closer to its end, with its findings due to be handed down in January, its assisting counsel is preparing to make a number of recommendations that would represent a major overhaul of the state’s existing drug and alcohol policy.
These recommendations, which were released this week and will be delivered next month, focus on treating drug use as a health and social issue rather than a criminal one.
A cornerstone of the recommendations is the NSW decriminalisation of small amounts of ice and other illicit drugs for personal consumption, as well as paraphernalia for drug use such as pipes. Under the proposal, people found with drugs would be directed by police to a health service rather than arrested for drug possession.
However, this is one of a potential 104 recommendations from the assisting counsel, which will also include:

  • additional funding for specialist alcohol and drug services across NSW
  • capture of data by NSW Police on the occurrence of drug use in a criminal offence
  • ceasing the use of sniffer dogs at music festivals and restricting the use of strip searches to more serious cases of drug supply
  • trialling pill testing at a fixed site and possibly music festivals
  • expanding the use of medically supervised drug consumption rooms within the state.
 Criminal sanctions will remain intact for illicit drug supply.
Dr Hester Wilson, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine network, is fully supportive of this type of approach.
‘I think we really need to consider drug law reform and decriminalising drugs in small quantities,’ she told newsGP.
‘It’s about understanding the factors that led to that [drug use] behaviour, and whether this is a group of people who do need assistance and treatment, rather than a criminal or a judiciary approach.
‘People who traffic large quantities of drugs do need to be dealt with by police in criminal proceedings. But we also need to consider putting our energies into assisting people [who use drugs] to get the treatment they need, rather than punishing them.’
The recommendations are also in line with Health, drugs and rights, a report by UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program on AIDS/HIV, which was released this week and calls on all countries to adopt a public health and human rights approach to drug use in order to minimise its harms and reduce the spread of blood-borne infections.
‘Decriminalisation of drug use and possession for personal use reduces the stigma and discrimination that hampers access to health care, harm reduction and legal services,’ UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe wrote in the introduction.
‘People who use drugs need support, not incarceration.’
While the NSW Inquiry’s Commissioner Dan Howard SC will consider the assisting counsel’s recommendations when a final report, he is not obliged to accept them.
‘The Commissioner will consider all the evidence, submissions, and further consultations with the Commission’s Expert Advisory Panel, in formulating his eventual findings and recommendations,’ the Inquiry said in a statement.
‘These will be handed to the NSW Government in the final report of the commission.’

Addiction medicine Harm minimisation Ice inquiry Illicit drugs NSW

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