ACT News

Greens call for major overhaul of drug policy including pill testing and decriminalisation

The ACT Greens have called for a major overhaul of drug policy in Australia including the removal of criminal sanctions for personal drug use.

Greens MLA and Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury said the current approach to drug policy was clearly failing and politicians needed to embrace systemic reforms that prioritise health outcomes rather than law enforcement.

ACT Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury has called for the country's drug laws to be reformed.
ACT Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury has called for the country's drug laws to be reformed.  Photo: Jay Cronan

"Regardless of your position on the issue the truth is quite a number of Australians take drugs and that number is increasing," he said.

Mr Rattenbury also called for a controversial pill testing trial at music festivals to be brought to Canberra, describing it as a simple initiative that would save lives.

The trial proposed by ACT emergency medicine specialist Dr David Caldicott has been rejected by NSW Premier Mike Baird who described it as tantamount to condoning illegal drugs.

The trial was supported by the nation's leading drug and rehabilitation experts and politicians as part of a draft declaration to reform Australia's drug policy


Described by Dr Caldicott as "the Geneva convention of reform in Australia", the declaration calls for an overhaul on police and law enforcement strategies and a bias in federal funding.

It also calls for supervised injecting facilities to be more widely available and for police to cease strategies considered harmful, including drug sniffer dogs.

Mr Rattenbury said the declaration was the first step to changing drug policy and shifting to a focus on treatment and harm minimisation rather than criminal enforcement.

"While the majority of the funding is spent on law enforcement, only about two per cent of the $1.7 billion Australia is pouring into tackling drugs is going to harm reduction efforts," he said. "Our focus is all back to front."

National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre specialist Dr Caitlin Hughes said it was important to distinguish between decriminalisation and legalisation.

"Decriminalisation removes criminal penalties for use and possession by law or in practice," she said. "It does not provide a legal avenue to obtain drugs."

"There is no evidence that decriminalisation increases drug use or increases other crime."

Director of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction professor Ann Roche said some of Australia's drug policies had been extremely successful and internationally recognised, although change was needed.

"We are currently at a point in history were we can take stock of what has worked and what has not," she said,

"We have the opportunity to rethink and renew some approaches that have not worked and consider scope for innovation."

M Rattenbury said state and federal governments continually funding for law enforcement strategies was not reducing the prevalence of drugs and was instead placing unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system.

"All the evidence shows that  focusing on treatment and harm reduction is most effective way to reduce the prevalence of use, and reduce the broader impacts of drug use such as crime and health impacts," he said.

"The law enforcement approach is expensive, ineffective and has a high risk of producing counterproductive results."

Mr Rattenbury's support of pill testing at festivals is unlikely to be replicated by the ACT Government,  which has previously described it as not a government-endorsed approach.

"The ACT Government is committed to its harm-minimisation approach to illicit drugs, and is constantly looking at ways to better reduce harm, reduce supply and reduce demand," Mr Barr said.

"However, it is not a government endorsed approach – and the possession of illicit drugs remains an offence within the context of a harm minimisation approach."