By Jack Revell / The Latch

While the country has been subjected to shocking revelations from the capital of our nation for the past few months, another equally startling story has somewhat managed to slip under the radar. In February, Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson introduced a private members bill to remove criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of some illicit drugs in the Australian Capital Territory.

If it passes, the bill would effectively make being caught with small quantities of MDMA, cocaine, and even heroin and ice a non-criminal matter. Instead, users would be hit with a $100 fine and sent to a health programme. This wouldn’t make all drugs legal and you would still get into trouble for being caught with them. However, the penalties for possession wouldn’t give users a criminal record or bring them into the prison system, a practice that serves to harm, rather than help users.

It might sound like a radical idea here in Australia, but it’s one that Portugal has been using effectively for two decades. That strategy dropped their rates of drug-related HIV infection by 90%, increased treatment for people with addiction by 60%, and didn’t significantly increase drug use across the country. The bill is now before a parliamentary committee who are accepting submissions on the policy from the public and will report back in October.