The Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee received the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Inquiry into drug law reform in November 2015, although it did not commence work on it until February 2017. The key objective of the inquiry was to investigate the effectiveness of drug control laws and procedures in minimising drug‑related harms, as well as drug law reform in other Australian and overseas jurisdictions.
Throughout the inquiry, the Committee received 231 submissions from a diverse range of experts and stakeholders working in various areas of drug policy and law reform, in addition to individual members of the community. The Committee held nine days of public hearings and two site visits in Melbourne and Sydney from June to November 2017. In addition, the Committee travelled to Geneva, Lisbon, London, Vancouver, Denver and Sacramento in July 2017, in addition to Wellington in October 2017, to explore how different jurisdictions manage the problems of substance use and impacts on broader communities, and to meet with agencies involved in international drug policy and control.
Based on the evidence received, the use of illicit substances and the misuse of pharmaceutical medication is a strong source of community concern. The Committee understands that most people who use substances do so infrequently, and only a small proportion use them in highly harmful ways. However, the adverse consequences arising from such use are far‑reaching and affect individuals, families and the community. Further, a common theme throughout the inquiry was the need to acknowledge the different types of substance use and understand why people engage in certain behaviours. This dialogue has been missing from Australia’s current approach to drugs despite these being important considerations when thinking about the types of strategies to prevent use and minimise harms.
There is also growing recognition among governments and the community that greater balance between traditional law enforcement and health‑based responses will have a broader positive effect on the health and safety of communities. This was a driving factor of the Committee’s investigations and its suite of coordinated and innovative reform recommendations. These recommendations acknowledge that while people continue to use substances, whether illicit or pharmaceutical, more needs to be done to minimise the associated harms.