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Illegal drug use and possession: Current policy and debates

Illegal drug use and possession: Current policy and debates

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing paper 4/2016 by Tom Gotsis, Chris Angus and Lenny Roth

Government policy to address illegal drug use and possession is an ongoing topic of debate both in Australia and internationally. One part of the debate surrounding illegal drug use and possession involves the question of whether or not recreational drug use should be decriminalised, as has occurred in overseas jurisdictions such as Portugal.

Another, and more immediate, part of the debate concerns the harms that have resulted from illegal drug use at music festivals. The NSW Government is reviewing the regulation of these events but has rejected options put forward by some stakeholders, including allowing pill testing and amnesty bins. The suggestion by drug law reform proponents that ice users be allowed to attend a medically supervised smoke inhalation room is also on the public agenda.

An upcoming forum for discussing illegal drug use and possession is the Parliamentary Cross-Party Harm Minimisation Roundtable, to be held on 11 August at the NSW Parliament.

This paper seeks to inform the current debate by discussing:
• rates of illegal drug use and the harms of illegal drug use;  
• current Government policy and laws in relation to illegal drug use;
• the use and effectiveness of harm reduction measures, such as the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre;
• illegal drug use at music festivals; and
• arguments for and against prohibition and decriminalisation, with examples and evidence from Australian and overseas jurisdictions