A national roundtable of leaders in health, social services and criminology, including the Uniting Church, has issued a strong call to treat illicit drug-use primarily as a health and social issue.
The independent think tank Australia21 hosted 35 leaders in diverse fields at the 21 March forum in Melbourne to consider ways to reduce the harm from illicit drug use.
- greater investment in demand reduction (treatment services) and harm reduction strategies to address illicit drug use; and
- the expansion of decriminalisation for possession and personal use of small amounts of illicit drugs.
The Australia21 forum has also called for the removal of criminal sanctions for personal use and possession of illicit drugs, arguing that prohibition has caused further harm across communities.
Founding Director of Australia21 Emeritus, Professor Bob Douglas, said that, “arrest and prosecution often involves the loss of employment, housing and family and community support.”
“This can spiral into further crime, but also increase family homelessness, domestic violence, child protection interventions, mental health issues and suicide rates,” said Professor Douglas.
The group also urged that treatment programs should have a higher priority noting that “highly effective treatment and harm reduction strategies have been chronically underfunded”.
Former Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer, now an Emeritus Director of Australia21, said that the war on drugs strategy has failed.
While he argued that manufacture and trafficking must remain serious criminal offences, Palmer said Australia can do more.
“Australia should adopt a more… evidence-based approach including decriminalisation of personal possession of drugs and better treatment options.
“We can’t punish people into getting better,” he said.
The Uniting Church was represented at the roundtable by six staff from Uniting services in NSW, the ACT, and Victoria. Staff from Uniting NSW and the ACT were pleased to speak of the Uniting Church’s commitment to positive change and the campaign led by Uniting on the church’s behalf.
Because of our Synod’s stand, they were able to endorse wholeheartedly the roundtable group’s resolve to work for improved public awareness of the harms caused by current laws and the real benefits to be gained from reform.
Jon O’Brien, Uniting Social Justice Forum.