New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet has said his government will not decriminalize personal low-level drug use, reversing a key recommendation from the 2020 ICE Inquiry.
Mr Perrottet announced his long-awaited response to the inquiry on Wednesday, promising a “zero tolerance” approach to drugs.
“I want to make it very clear that the NSW Government does not support the recommendation to decriminalize illicit drugs,” he said.
“Drugs have no place in our society, but we know that those who have been caught in drugs need care, support.”
However, the government says it supports “in principle” the idea of a pre-court diversion scheme where low-level drug users can be given a notice of a criminal offense instead of going to court .
The implementation of this program will depend on the advice of the NSW Police Commissioner and the State Chief Health Officer, who have been given a deadline of June 30, 2023 to give their advice.
“The proposed scheme will look like this: There will be two Criminal Offense Notices, a maximum of two, they will be issued at the discretion of the police,” Attorney General Mark Speakman said.
“So the police will have the discretion, under the law, to issue these notices. There will be exclusions for certain offenders, so that someone who has a criminal record as a drug dealer will not suffer of criminal offence.
“The offender will be able to avoid the fine associated with this criminal offense notice, if they submit to the telehealth program or other programs associated with this notice.”
Perrottet said the government supported 86 of the report’s recommendations and noted 14 others.
He also said the government would commit nearly $500 million to help tackle drug problems.
Of that money, $358 million will “close treatment gaps and improve health and social outcomes,” and the rest will go to justice initiatives.
The report, which cost $11 million to produce, went unanswered by the government for more than two years.
The inquiry heard testimony over 47 days of hearings, including 35 people who shared their experiences of using illicit drugs, and received 250 submissions.
It made 109 recommendations, including “the establishment of a model for the decriminalization of the personal use and possession of prohibited drugs”.
The recommendation called for a health-based approach to personal low-level drug use, rather than criminal penalties.
This recommendation in particular has been a sticking point for NSW ministers and has reportedly delayed the response.
An interim government response in March 2020 addressed a small number of recommendations aimed at minimizing harm.
Mr Speakman said earlier this year he was “disappointed” with the slowness of his response to the survey, which recommended widespread reform of the health and justice response to drug problems in the state.
“We didn’t spend so much money to have a detailed expert report, which required a huge amount of expert evidence, to stay on the shelf,” Mr Speakman said.
“We intend to act, and I am disappointed that we have not been able to provide our full response.”
Originally published as NSW Government Releases Response to 2020 Ice Inquiry