The Greens are calling for drug use to be decriminalised and treated as a health issue, with party leader Richard Di Natale asking for bipartisan support to change Australia’s drug policy so that it’s in line with Portugal’s, which doesn’t treat usage as a criminal issue.
As Fairfax Media reports, Mr Di Natale is on a self-funded mission to meet with Portugal’s policymakers and program developers, who he hopes can give Australia’s lawmakers some new ideas.
If Mr Di Natale’s proposed changes were to come into effect, Aussies who get into trouble with drug use would not be subject to criminal penalties.
“Instead they would front a health panel which gets them into treatment and helps them with other things like housing and employment support,” Mr Di Natale says.
Drug users in Portugal haven’t been put through the criminal justice system since 2000, with funds saved from enforcement going towards drug treatment and prevention. Portugal has not legalised drug supply, with drug dealers still being targeted by law enforcement authorities.
Mr Di Natale says that the country hasn’t seen an increase in drug use since the reforms.
“Instead what we’ve seen is a huge decline in all the things associated with harmful drug use,” he says. “We’ve also seen more people in treatment, fewer drug overdoses, fewer cases of HIV and a decrease in crime.”
Australia’s approach to drug use criminalisation hasn’t stopped punters from taking drugs at music festivals and similar gatherings, with a Sydney-based law firm even using Facebook’s targeted advertising to sell their services to people who have potentially been busted for drug possession at big events.
Liberal member for Murray, Sharman Stone, is (like Mr Dr Natale) a co-convenor of the Australian Parliamentary Group on Drug Law Reform. She says Australia’s current drug policy isn’t working.
“We need to look very carefully at what other countries are doing, where they have focused on taking what we’d call illicit substances, where they look at them as a health problem,” Ms Stone says.
“We’d put the criminals out of business in relation to those drugs.”
International music festivals are even beginning to test people’s drugs to stop them from overdosing, but Australia is still catching up.
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