Thursday 12 October 2023
The NSW Government’s new drug reform legislation is a welcome step towards sensible, fair and evidence-based drug policy.
Yet the proposed diversion scheme relies on police discretion, meaning Aboriginal people will continue to be disproportionately harmed by the state’s drug laws.
“We all want to see smart and realistic drug laws that result in better access to healthcare for people struggling with addiction, fewer lives at risk behind bars, and safer communities. This new legislation is a step in the right direction but it needs to be strengthened to close the gap,” said Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS).
If passed, the legislation will give NSW Police the ability to issue up to two on-the-spot infringement notices for personal drug use and small-quantity drug possession.
“We already know police are disproportionately charging Aboriginal people found with cannabis rather than diverting them from court under the existing cannabis cautioning scheme.
"Whenever diversion is left up to police discretion, we see our communities bearing the brunt of charges. This evidence tells us that this will also be a problem in this new scheme,” Ms Warner said.
A recent NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research study found that 12% of Aboriginal adults with a small amount of cannabis were cautioned by NSW Police, compared to 44% of non-Aboriginal adults.
The Government’s legislation could also be strengthened by reconsidering reliance on fines, which are inherently inequitable because they aren’t means-tested.
“We can’t rely on fines to address issues of public health. Look at where that got us during the pandemic: Aboriginal communities and households on low incomes were burdened with disproportionate debt, and many of them ended up with criminal charges after attempting to challenge that unfair debt,” Ms Warner said.
The ALS continues to call for stronger law reform in line with the findings of the NSW Ice Inquiry. The inquiry’s recommendations were issued well over three years ago, yet little progress has been made towards their implementation.
The Ice Inquiry recommended decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use.
Alyssa Robinson [email protected] 0427 346 017
Bart Denaro [email protected] 0427 950 312
Both Alyssa and Bart can also be contacted at [email protected]