4 July 2022

Does drug decriminalisation reduce harm - or do the exact opposite?

| Jeremy Hanson MLA
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Jeremy Hanson

Deputy Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson says plans to decriminalise drugs of dependence could create significant harm in the community. Photo: Region.

Laws before the ACT Assembly to decriminalise heroin, methamphetamines and other hard drugs are deeply flawed. They will not reduce harm but will likely lead to increased drug use and increased crime in the ACT.

In the words of the AFP Commissioner, these laws will make for “a far more dangerous environment” for police and lead to “a more dangerous society”.

An Assembly committee conducted an inquiry into these laws and the evidence collected made a compelling case against decriminalisation.

This was ignored by the Labor and Greens members who are in an endless competition to enact the most ‘progressive’ laws in the ACT regardless of how flawed they are and how many more young people will become addicted to drugs as a result.

READ MORE Decriminalising small amounts of illicit drugs the ‘next logical step’ in the ACT: Health Minister

The inquiry showed that drug use is on the decline in Canberra. In other words, the current suite of policies is working.

The gaps in the current system are not drug enforcement laws but drug treatment services that are woefully, inadequately resourced and staffed. Waiting times are long and only about half the people seeking treatment can access services.

Decriminalisation will put even more strain on already stretched drug treatment services by making drugs more available. In fact, the AFP Commissioner has warned of ‘narco tourism’ as has been seen in other jurisdictions across the world. Some of these jurisdictions are now reversing their policies.

The only people who will benefit from this exercise are organised criminals and drug dealers. As the Federal Police Association says of these laws, “the government may as well write a cheque for organised crime and roll out the welcome mat”.

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The proposed laws will not stop addicts being prosecuted and jailed just for drug use, which is one of the arguments for this law to change, because that is not actually happening now.

The evidence to the inquiry showed that people caught with small amounts of illicit drugs are currently not jailed. They only face prosecution for drug offences when they are arrested and charged for other crimes such as armed robbery. Police already divert users to drug treatment, which has proved very successful.

The ACT Law Society has pointed out that “the Bill will have minimal effect on driving drug users from the criminal justice system”. However, if you take away the possibility of prosecution and jail, how many addicted heroin and meth users will now voluntarily access those drug treatment services?

Desperate addicts who often need to be forced to enter drug treatment will no longer do so. This will be compounded by the large amounts of drugs that this law considers ‘personal use’, which may enable drug dealers.

The impact on road safety has also been highlighted by the Federal Police Association as more people affected by drugs will be driving on our roads. This will further stretch our police and cause harm through increased road trauma.

People on the frontline of health services have also raised their objections to decriminalising hard drugs.

In their submission to the inquiry, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (ACT Branch) observed that “decriminalisation of dangerous drugs may increase use and therefore increase the presentation of people at treatment centres and pharmacies, and increase the burden on the Territory’s resources over time”.

They suggested the ACT Government continue to focus on the current treatment and harm minimisation programs and increase focus on early intervention and education programs.

In his thoughtful dissenting report to the decriminalisation committee inquiry, Liberal MLA Peter Cain made the case that the legislation should not be passed for five compelling reasons:

  • The laws are simplistic and actually require a complex whole of government approach.
  • The laws fail to consider the risks of increased crime and trafficking that will result from decimalisation.
  • The laws remove an important deterrence to drug use.
  • The laws fail to recognise the success of existing diversion to treatment.
  • The laws are in conflict with Commonwealth legislation.

Decriminalising hard drugs will undo the elements of drug policy that are working well while increasing crime, addiction rates, road trauma and stretching already overloaded treatment services.

Instead of this naive grandstanding exercise, the ACT Government should properly resource ACT Policing, which is chronically short-staffed, and properly invest in underfunded drug treatment services.

Unfortunately, the ACT Government will likely pass this legislation and announce that they are ‘reducing harm’ when, in fact, they are doing the very opposite.

Jeremy Hanson is a Liberal MLA for Molonglo and deputy leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly.

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I would of thought the best way to reduce harm would be not to do it in the first place? So wouldn’t it be good for our government to come up with more creative ways to stop people partaking in the first place instead of trying to fix the problem after the fact which they don’t have the resources to do anyway. Another virtue signal fail.

Poor old Jeremy! He’s been kickin around the Assembly in opposition for 14 years. He’s held a number of shadow portfolios and was even leader at one stage. But that ended spectacularly. Like a loyal old blue dog he is now back recycled as deputy leader. When I see Jeremy in the news that Talking Heads song springs to mind. That Road to Nowhere! The current Canberra Liberals are a shadow of what they were under Kate Carnell and Gary Humphries. That is why they continue to be in opposition. Kate Carnell led drug law reform in the ACT all those years ago based on wisdom and knowledge. Her outlook was centred on input from specialist bodies. She took a visionary and empathetic foresight to drug law reform with harm minimisation and supply and demand reduction central. She even had the support of the Labor opposition. Jon Stanhope has described Kate Carnell as genuinely progressive on social issues, a very good politician, a good communicator and clever and intuitive. He described her supporters as voters that probably regarded themselves as Labor. But you won’t see the current Canberra Liberals or Jeremy Hanson with any vision. Jeremy cherry picks and ignores specialist advice, alluding to some bizarre left-wing conspiracy between Labor and the Greens. One has to wonder who is leading the Canberra Liberals. Since their crashing defeat at the 2020 election this apparently new modern progressive party has a leader in hiding. Jeremy Hanson and Peter Cain have taken the lead bringing a more militant and contemptuous vision to policy and drug law reform.

Dave Spanksalot12:21 pm 06 Jul 22

Dear Jeremy, I doubt you will remember but I visited you in regards to pill testing many moons ago. You studiously ignored real world research and evidence I presented while parroting your lines without thought or deviation in perfect facsimile to your above argument, it seems like you have a cognitive block to anything that doesn’t fit your personal views. I truly wish you could prioritise social welfare over party politics but sadly after many Liberal party meetings I haven’t observed any changes. If you cannot present Canberrans with an intelligent viable alternative to government policies then maybe you should encourage a new generation of better informed broader thinking leaders, otherwise the ACT Liberlas will continue to languish in opposition in perpetuity. You haven’t presented any actual peer reviewed research for your current position on drugs other than a few opinions from like minded groups. Dealing with drug use is far more complex than your presented argument, which decades of modern history presents rock solid evidence that illegality has little positive outcomes – the criminalised war on drug use has been done to death with no appreciable benefits and relies on social attitudes of moral authoritarianism and a belief those who are immoral are deserving of punishment. Ps. I have witnessed policy discussions that prioritised party interests over social interests (eg, recommendations for new borders and size of expanded legislative assembly members and districts based on electoral advantage and not on best application of services or functionality for Canberrans), if you ever want more support than a minority of the population you will have to present real well researched solutions that have broader appeal than to just those who are nostalgic for a regressive fantasised morality from the 1950s.

Dear David, Unfortunately I have not had the benefit of reading peer reviewed reports, in relation to the benefits of legalizing drugs. I am yet to see this “war on drugs” you talk about. But as one who have lived with a family member who has not only destroyed their life, but also the lives of most who are near and dear to them, due to their ever spiraling use of drugs, I think I can speak with real life experience.
Having sat in meetings and gatherings with other drug affected family groups, hearing the stories of heartbreak, seeing what it has done to my family member, my parents, everyone they come into contact with, it is absolutely life destroying.
My family member wishes that 35 years when they started taking “just dope” the police had stepped in there and then and yes “punished” him. As my family member puts it, it would have scared them out of going further. There are little to no places for people like this to go, walk around outside Canberra City Centre of an evening, go to a few homeless shelters and see exactly what drugs can do to people. That is real world research!
This Government is flat out running our Health System poorly, let alone having the added burden of attempting to rehabilitate people who have their lives destroyed by drugs. Yes some people can pop a pill, get the buzz and be ok, others it totally destroys them and all around them. Are you going to accept responsibility for this second group and explain to them and their families that the destruction of their lives is ok, because you wanted to live in a “progressive, hip” city.

Those on drugs are more likely to be shot and killed by police. As they act irrationally and commit stupid acts of sexual and physical violence.

Future generations will look back on this and wonder how we possibly thought this was anything but a braindead solution.

@gooterz “Those on drugs are more likely to be shot and killed by police. As they act irrationally and commit stupid acts of sexual and physical violence.”

Really? And to which study / report are you referring when you make this statement?

make the use and possession of drugs a health issue and not a crime and a lot of good peoples lives will not be ruined by having to go through the shambles that is AMC and the judicial system as a whole. Consult with community members who are good contributing members of society that you wouldn’t even know use drugs like your teacher your EL2 boss at work etc and have them have an input into what amounts should be decriminalised and keep it sensible

It’s a myth started by the Government that people are going to AMC for single possession charge.

What normally happens if someone is arrested for a more serious offence, and while in custody, police locate drugs on them. That charge is wrapped up into the more serious charge.

@Errol Flynn
There seems to be a case for “treatment” (as a health issue) rather than “punishment” (as a crime) for drug users.

I often wonder if doing something really radical like making these drugs legal – so they can be distributed by reputable companies (pharmacies perhaps? – “I’ll have a packet of strepsils and a gram of heroin please”). I think that would at least remove the criminal element from the equation and lessen the call on medical responder resources for issues with ‘dodgy batches of street drugs.

Having said that, the jury is still out on Canada’s decsion to legalise canabis for personal use 3 years ago (https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cannabis-changed-canada-1.6219493)

Neverthelss, unless one subscribes to the “no-one forced them to stick a needle in their arm, so no sympathy” philosophy, something definitely needs to be done and a little thinking outside of the square may be what’s needed.

I feel ya there ?

Call me simplistic if you like, however, in all things in life if you lower your expectations (or laws), the high standards that you expect deteriorate.

We introduced laws for seat belts and drink driving and thee death rates decreased. Any thoughts as to what would happen if we relaxed those laws?

We no longer cane, expel or put school kids on detention; low discipline and school teachers are now getting assaulted.

Covid; restrictions have been reduced and despite encouragement to wear masks in crowded spaces, few do. Despite mask mandates on public transport, many travel unmasked. 10,000 deaths now. 80% this year.

Somehow, I think if the police are saying drug abuse and related crime will increase if the laws are softened, why wouldn’t their advice be taken?

The Courts already send people charged with an offence to education and rehab instead of jail. Education of those not caught up in the drug scene is also needed in a big way as well as quality rehab. Education for youth not yet exposed to the drug problem is sadly lacking and focus needs to be put on that. The bill is wrong and puts focus on something that under the current system in real terms is not the issue facing the community. Remember the campaign that dramatically reduced smoking. Something similar is needed

Jeremy Hansen’s evidence:
1) A submission from his mini-me (Peter Cain) regurgetating the same old ‘war on drugs is working’ nonsence
2) A quote from an AFP Commissioner trying to look like he is doing a good job
3) A baseless speculatory quote from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia
4) A quote from the ACT Law Society, who are no doubt threatened by the loss of business in their professin that can be expected with decriminalising a commonly prosecured activity.

This article fails to recognise the groundswell of jurisdctions and Nations that continue to adopt similar policies. Canada are the most recent country to ad their name to this list. Hansen is incorrect in stating this policy has been a failure, unless his KPI is people put through the criminal justice system. From a public health and safety point of view, the science is settled. Drug additction and all of the undesirable social outcomes such as petty crime decline once unjust penalties are removed and support services are provided.

As with all of the issues Hansen/Cain choose to run with, they are guided by ideology rather than evidence, and their proposed solution seems to be doubling down on an approach that wastes money, ruins lives and serves nobody.

Dave Spanksalot11:39 am 06 Jul 22

I’m so glad you put in the effort to summarise Jeremy’s load of hogwash. Jeremy sadly is an anachronistic regressivist who bases his “policies” on his fantasy of what society should be in his eyes while ignoring observed reality. In a way his behaviour could be described as that of an addict, which in his case the drug is an income he’d never get in the military and a freedom from consequences for his myopic utterances (other than eternal opposition status). Sadly, because the quality of the ACT Liberals is somewhat below that of a rotting roadside roo they are necessarily missing in action when it comes to their duty to present better researched policies to compete with, and force improvement, from the government. Which is all our loss, thanks Jeremy. Ending on a positive note, Jeremy does have one of the most amazing smiles I’ve seen. He would make a far better Country Road model than he fares as a MLA.

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