Decriminalisation of Illicit Drugs
This document was prepared by the Social Justice Forum of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT. It refers to the decriminalisation (NOT the legalisation) of the personal use and possession of illicit drug, NOT the sale or supply of illicit drugs. For more information about this compaign, check out the links on this page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This page gives just a summary of the main arguments in favour of the decriminalisation of illicit drugs. In considering the proposal that such a campaign be launched, the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT had before it a number of other more detailed documents. For one of these, a much more detailed document, “Some common questions with responses,” click here.
The evidence suggests that it has no or very little effect on rates of drug use. Some evidence shows that decriminalisation actually results in reductions in problematic dependent or compulsive drug use.
The evidence shows that people whop don’t get a criminal record are much less likely to be involved in other crimes or be arrested for other offences. In addition, there is no evidence that decriminalisation increases the risk of other drug related offences, such as supply.
Research shows that decriminalisation is associated with less use of police, courts and prison. This then reduces the cost associated with law enforcement, leaving funds available for other purposes. In California, law enforcement costs dropped from $17 million in 1975 (before decriminalisation) to $4.4 million in 1976 (after decriminalisation).
A criminal record and time in prison severely impacts one’s employment prospects due to reduced education, stigma and fewer housing and job opportunities. Studies from a number of countries have shown that people who avoid contact with the criminal justice system are less likely to drop out of school early, be sacked or denied a job.
Involvement with police and courts puts great pressure on relationships. Time in prison separates family members, making crucial ties harder to maintain. Those not entangled with the criminal justice system are less likely to have fights with partners, family or friends, less likely to be evicted and become homeless, are able to avoid separation from loved ones that jail sentences impose, and are better placed to maintain supportive friendships.
Given the positive evidence, an increasing number of countries have adopted decriminalisation in different ways. To date, at least 226 countries, including the USA, Ireland, Germany, India and Argentina, either have, or are in the process of, decriminalising drug possession and use.
A majority of Australians believe people who use illicit drugs should not be dealt with through the criminal justice system. They don’t think it appropriate that these people are treated as criminals processed through the courts. They prefer that people found to possess and/or use small amounts of illicit drugs be cautioned, referred to treatment or fined.