Health and funding focus welcome in drug law reform report

Victoria Legal Aid welcomes the release of a parliamentary report which highlights the need for personal drug use to be treated as health and social issue rather than one of criminalisation.

“This report is a thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the changes and additional funding required to intervene early and reduce the harm caused by drug use in our community,” VLA Managing Director Bevan Warner said.

The Victorian Parliament’s Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee has made 50 recommendations in examining the effectiveness of current laws and procedures in minimising drug-related health, social and economic harms.

“Illicit drug use is causing untold harm in our community and current approaches to dealing with this crisis are not working,” Mr Warner said.

In giving evidence to the committee, Mr Warner urged parliamentarians to be brave and confront the stigma and taboo associated with illicit drug use.

“Put simply, fear, stigma and taboo force people away from help, into escalating behaviours, and inevitably into the criminal justice system,” Mr Warner said.

“I am pleased that the committee has recognised that the state government should lead the way in changing community attitudes and the language used about drug use.”

While not recommending changes to current drug offences, the committee has recommended that the personal use of illicit drugs be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, with appropriate pathways in place to treatment services.

“We believe a carefully monitored and evidence based move towards the decriminalisation and regulation of the personal use of some drugs would help people to seek treatment, and keep them out of the criminal justice system,” Mr Warner said.

“This approach would reflect the international evidence of what works to reduce the financial cost and deep social harms associated with illicit drug use.”

VLA welcomes the committee’s acknowledgement that its recommendations will require substantial increases in funding for treatment and support services.

“There are not enough safe counselling and treatment pathways for people, and people do not get help early enough,” Mr Warner said.

VLA welcomes the committee’s recommendation to expand the Drug Court program, the Court Integrated Services Program (CISP) and CREDIT/Bail support programs which are all crucial to addressing drug and alcohol dependency.

“These are effective programs but we are concerned that people in some parts of Melbourne, regional and rural Victoria do not have the opportunity to participate,” Mr Warner said.

“This ‘postcode injustice’ must be addressed if we are to make a meaningful reduction in the number of drug-dependent and vulnerable people who end up in the criminal justice system.”

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