WA drug harm inquiry recommends health focus instead of criminal penalties

A parliamentary inquiry has called for a stronger health focus instead of criminal penalties to reduce harm from illicit drugs, to increase support for drug addicted Western Australians.

The inquiry has recommended a shift from a criminal justice approach, with inquiry the parliamentary select committee stating that users should be able to receive support “rather than simply ending up with a criminal record.”

46 recommendations were made in its report “Help, Not Handcuffs: Evidence –Based Approaches to Reducing Harm From Illicit Drug Use” released on Thursday, designed as a blueprint to reduce drug related harm in WA’s community.

A year-long inquiry by the committee investigated strategies, including drug policies of Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden, cannabis legalisation, pill testing and crisis detoxification.

Among recommendations included creating a working group or police officers and health professionals to consider trialling pill testing and evaluating efficiency and cost effectiveness of drug detection dogs at music festivals.

It also recommended decriminalising cultivation of cannabis for personal use and possession.

Speaking to WAMN News, WA Greens MP and inquiry chair Alison Xamon said a health approach was vital.

“The best approach to take is not actually a criminal based approach, you’ve got to deal with it as a health issue,” Ms Xamon said.

“The criminal nature of illicit drug taking for people who have addiction actually serves as a barrier to people who have addiction.”

She said prohibition did not work despite coming from “a good place.”

“It’s understandable why people want to try to pursue prohibition because ultimately, we do want people to stop harming themselves by using illicit drugs,” Ms Samon said.

“Unfortunately, evidence shows time and time again that it doesn’t work.”

Ms Xamon stated that drug addicted users needed to be encouraged to seek out help from services.

She said there were not enough services to meet demand, but she hoped the current 10 year mental health, drug and services plan would improve the situation.

“(This is) one of the things that this committee reinforces is the importance of sticking to the targets of that plan to ensure actual sufficient services,” she said.

However, she said penalties still needed to exist for serious drug crimes.

“We need to still make sure that people who develop drugs, people who produce drugs, deal in drugs, traffic, in drugs, still need to be criminally culpable,” Ms Xamon said.

No decriminalisation and pill testing for WA: State Government
Premier Mark McGowan has claimed WA is prepared to reduce the harm associated with illicit drugs.

However, he rejected any plans to decriminalise drugs in WA.

“Decriminalisation is not something we’re going to do,” Mr McGowan said.

He also rejected any introduction of pill testing in the state that has been introduced at festivals in New South Wales, despite revelations of 70 per cent of festival goers using drugs.

“That is something that I think is fraught with danger and we haven’t suffered from some of the issues that New South Wales has in regards to festivals,” he added.

He said WA had instead had a “comprehensive range of measures.”

“What we do have is a whole range of measures and improvements to get people into rehabilitation, more education measures and also things like the meth border force to interdict meth before it comes into the state,” Mr McGowan said.

Health Minister Roger Cook said he would examine the report and provide a response in due course.

He said that the McGowan Government would not rule out any additions to WA’s drug harm reduction measures.

“We’re not closed in our minds at any sort of measures,” Mr Cook said.

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