Drug law reform is an incredibly complex area of public policy. This is due to the interweaving nature of the relevant issues and the challenges arising from drug use and its consequences. This complexity is also due to conflicting views about how best to address the use of drugs in the community.
Historically, the approach to drugs both internationally and in Australia was based on prohibition of recreational drug use, although there is growing recognition that a dominant focus on law enforcement strategies has not eradicated the supply or demand for such substances, but has contributed to increased harms such as overdoses and black market crime. Now more than ever, there is also greater availability of new and often more harmful substances on the illicit market. Related to this, is the rising misuse of approved pharmaceutical drugs within the broader community.
It is in the context of these issues that the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee received the Terms of Reference for this inquiry. A key focus was to consider how effective current drugs laws are and whether they are successful in reducing health and social harms associated with their use. The Committee was also asked to examine best practice in this area from other jurisdictions and their suitability for implementation in Victoria. These terms of reference provided the Committee with the unique opportunity to examine drug use as a whole, rather than focus on individual substances as has been done in previous inquiries.
While the title of the inquiry relates specifically to law reform, the Committee’s investigations were largely informed by the evidence received in submissions and public hearings, which called for a broader examination of drug-related laws, policies, procedures, programs and initiatives. The result is a report that comprehensively explored the key areas of prevention, law enforcement, treatment and harm reduction, and acknowledges the need for a more effective drug response framework, one that prioritises health and community safety.
A common theme throughout the inquiry was the need for honest and open discussions to understand why people may use drugs and to work towards more compassionate and balanced responses. The Committee was committed to providing a platform for this dialogue throughout the inquiry. The report and recommendations reflect the outcomes of these discussions, including that while people continue to use substances, whether illicit or pharmaceutical, more should be done to keep people safe.