The peak body for the drug and alcohol sector says it is "outrageous to think we can arrest our way out of drug use" after new statistics revealed more Canberrans were arrested for cannabis offences despite the number of seizures dropping.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's recent Illicit Drug Data Report revealed that in 2017-18, one Australian was arrested every four minutes for illicit drugs.
The ACT recorded the country's biggest year-on-year percentage increase in arrests and seizures related to heroin and other opioids, hallucinogens and substances that fell outside specific categories. These could include a range of substances like precursors, anaesthetics and pharmaceuticals.
While the increases were significant, the numbers were still relatively low. Arrests linked to heroin and opioids more than doubled, rising from 12 to 26. There were 13 hallucinogen arrests in 2017-18, up from just one the previous year.
But it is the figures on cannabis that have provoked a particularly strong reaction from the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT.
According to the Illicit Drug Data Report, the number of cannabis seizures in the ACT dropped more than 20 per cent in 2017-18, falling from 765 to 608.
Nevertheless, cannabis-related arrests increased in Canberra at the fastest rate in the country, climbing 11 per cent from 304 to 338.
The number of simple cannabis offence notices, which police can issue at their discretion if someone is caught with 50 grams of cannabis or less, dropped from 82 to 52. The notices carry a civil rather than criminal penalty, and are part of the ACT's decriminalisation of cannabis.
Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT chief executive Carrie Fowlie said despite government policies aiming to keep people out of the criminal justice system, the ACT's decriminalisation approach wasn't working and reform was needed.
Reform could soon be on the way, with members of the ACT Legislative Assembly considering a bill that would legalise small amounts of cannabis use, possession and cultivation.
"Arresting people who use drugs does not reduce drug use," Ms Fowlie said.
"Overall drug use patterns have remained stable despite Australian illicit drug arrests increasing by 76.9 per cent over the last decade."
Ms Fowlie said the majority of people who used drugs, including the roughly 44,000 Canberrans who had recently used cannabis, did not develop a problem.
For those who did have a problem, she said a health intervention was better than a criminal one.
However, a 2014 report by the federal health department found up to 500,000 Australians wanted to access drug treatment but couldn't because of a lack of places, and Ms Fowlie said the ACT was not immune to that problem.
An ACT Policing spokesman said there was nothing to indicate that there had been a significant increase in the Canberra drug trade.
He said police had laid a greater number of charges in recent years on the back of intelligence that better informed them about where illicit drugs were being sold and who was selling them.
"The illicit drug market is very demand-driven, and so any work done by police and our partners to reduce the demand will assist in reducing the volume of drugs being sold and consumed in the ACT," the spokesman said.
"As police, we frequently see the effects of drugs. We see drugs contributing to family violence and violence on our streets, we see serious injuries and deaths on our roads resulting from drug use and we see people affected by drugs committing other crimes.
"Drug driving continues to be a concern as do crimes such as burglaries and robberies where the individuals are seeking to source valuable items to sell in order to maintain their drug addiction."
Dr David Caldicott, an emergency medicine specialist at Calvary Hospital, said the increase in arrests and seizures related to drugs like heroin and hallucinogens did not mirror trends seen in hospitals.
He said drugs policy in Australia had three key pillars - reducing supply, reducing demand and reducing harm. While it was important to reduce supply, two-thirds of the money spent on drugs policy in Australia was dedicated to policing.
"There's a major disparity in the spread of what should in fact be distributed to the three pillars of drugs policy," Dr Caldicott said.
"So much of [arrests data] depends upon how issues are policed, so what we might be seeing [with increased arrests] could be a natural variation.
"If our end goal is trying to achieve a healthier community in the ACT, it's probably not going to just be achieved through arrests."
The ACT's 16 publicly funded alcohol and other drug treatment agencies provided treatment for an estimated 4109 clients in 2017-18, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol was the principal drug of concern in almost 43 per cent of cases.