Uniting Church supports drug decriminalisation bill

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THE Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT, and its service arm, Uniting, has today (February 12) labelled Canberra’s proposed drug law changes a breakthrough, saying the council is in full support of it. 

A proposed bill titled, “Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Bill 2021” was introduced in the ACT Legislative Assembly yesterday and aims to divert users into programs such as rehabilitation.

It would also mean that people found with small amounts of drugs for personal use will no longer face arrest, fines or jail time.

Following its introduction, the Uniting Church Synod said these proposed changes are a significant step in the right direction and reflect a fact-based health response to drug use in the community. 

“These proposed laws reflect a desire to treat everyone with dignity and respect including people who use drugs and for them to have full access to medical treatment,” said Uniting Church NSW and ACT moderator, reverend Simon Hansford.

Simon Hansford.

“Drug dependency should be treated with compassion and as a health issue. Our drug laws are based on hard and outdated ideas, not modern medical facts and evidence. People who have drug dependency are shamed and dehumanised, when they should be offered help to turn their lives around.

“We need to have a more honest and open conversation about alcohol and other drugs. Pretending we can stop all use of drugs is simply not realistic. And to believe our current law and order approach to drugs is working, is simply fanciful.”

It’s not the first time Uniting has backed drug decriminalisation and is behind the southern hemisphere’s first medically supervised injecting centre (MSIC) at Kings Cross, is the lead partner in the “Fair Treatment” campaign advocating for a more compassionate response to drug use, and has also released a paper outlining best-practice approaches to decriminalisation. 

Head of advocacy at Uniting Emma Maiden said Australia recorded 1740 drug-induced deaths in 2018 – which was the equivalent to five deaths every day of the year.

She said there was strong support in the community for drug reform and that 24 countries across the world have adopted a form of decriminalisation.

“There is a misconception in the community that removing criminal sanctions has risks. This assumes criminal sanctions are an effect and appropriate deterrent, or that removing sanctions could send a signal that drugs are permissible,” she said. 

“The experience of countries that have decriminalised possession does not support this.

“In fact, the more serious social and health problems associated with the use of opioids and methamphetamines mean a health and welfare response is even more appropriate than a criminal response.”

The Uniting Church will seek to raise support for the ACT bill among its churches as well as advocate for a similar approach to drug reform to be adopted in NSW.

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is the assistant editor of "CityNews".

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