Read original article in ABC News Australia.
Medical, legal and religious groups have joined forces to call for drugs to be decriminalised in Australia, arguing addiction should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one.
The Fair Treatment campaign is being led by the Uniting Church with support from more than 50 organisations, including the Law Society of NSW and the Public Health Association of Australia.
It was launched in Sydney by billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who said the “war on drugs” had already been lost.
“If politicians had a child or a bother or sister who had a drug problem they would not want them locked up, they would want them to get the best treatment,” Sir Richard said.
“When people are locked up they almost always go back to taking drugs when they come out.”
The idea was quickly condemned by the Police Minister in NSW, where two people died from suspected drug overdoses at the Defqon.1 music festival last month.
“Those who purport this line of pill testing or decriminalisation are offering up false hope and essentially jeopardising people’s health saying that if you take drugs in a regulated way or some sort of tested way that everything is OK or safe,” minister Troy Grant said.
“That’s just a fallacy.”
Supporters of decriminalisation point to the Portugal example, where people caught with drugs for personal use are assessed for treatment rather than being criminally penalised.
“If we could just start treating drugs as a health problem not a criminal problem it’s just blindingly obvious that you’re going to start getting on top of the problem,” Sir Richard said.
“If it can work in Portugal it can work in pretty much any country in the world.”
Marianne Jauncey from the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross, where users can take drugs under the watch of nurses, said more money needed to be spent on treatment services rather than law enforcement.
“If you find that moment in somebody’s long, difficult life where they’re ready and able to seek treatment, as a society I don’t think it’s too much to ask for us to be able to provide that,” Dr Jauncey said.
“Treatment works, there’s not enough, we need more.”