Council supports change

The Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council of Tasmania has voiced support for shifting focus away from criminalisation of drug use and seeing it as a health issue.  

A recent Australia 21 report said “current prohibition-based policy has been largely ineffective in reducing harms or the supply of drugs.” It recommended 13 measures including moving further towards a decriminalisation model, implementing safe consumption rooms and testing of substances in controlled environments.

ATDC chief executive Debra Rabe said criminalising drug users created stigma and stopped people seeking treatment, which inadvertently created an “underclass” of people who opt out of mainstream services. 

“The ATDC supports any move to reduce or eliminate criminal penalty on people that use drugs, strongly maintaining that drug use is a health and social issue, not a law enforcement issue,” Ms Rabe said. 

“One of the fundamental points that the report makes, is the need to look at how to do things differently - based on the assumption that the current approach is not working.

“This is ostensibly a comment on the weight of law enforcement in the policy mix when it comes to addressing drug policy. Law enforcement receives 66 per cent, per annum, of the funding dollar while treatment gets 21 per cent.”

A state government spokeswoman said the government’s “strong position”  was it did not support changing current illicit drug laws. 

A federal Health Department spokeswoman said the federal government did not support the supply of regulated substances for non-medical purposes. 

“Consideration should be given to progressing incrementally towards decriminalisation of drug use and regulation,” the report said.  

“However, in the opinion of some participants, regulation of supply should be restricted to particular drugs.

“Drug treatment and associated social services should be expanded, especially in rural areas.”

Ms Rabe said the council heard a “clear need” for expanding treatment across Tasmania. 

“People that use drugs in remote or rural areas of Tasmania have to travel hours for access to treatment,” Ms Rabe said. She said ATDC members had set up programs in outlying areas but only had “so much money to do so”. 

The state government spokeswoman said the government was continually improving drug and alcohol services, including in rural areas.