DECRIMINALISING illegal drugs in WA could help reduce their devastating effects on society, says North Metro MLC Alison Xamon.
She’s won bi-partisan support for a parliamentary select committee to do a study on alternative approaches to tackling the state’s drug crisis, including decriminalisation, which was introduced in Portugal in 2001.
Ms Xamon said the Portuguese had shown it was possible to take a different approach and have some successes, noting deaths from drugs in Portugal had reduced from 360 a year in the 1990s to an average of just 26 in 2016, by treating drug use as a health issue.
“It is clear that the current approach to reducing the harm that illicit drugs cause our community is not working,” Ms Xamon said.
“The crisis is getting worse rather than better because we do not have the right balance.”
She said the committee would look at the weighting given to enforcement, health and social interventions.
“The 10-year mental health, alcohol and other drugs services plan paints a concerning picture of drug use in WA, with one in 25 having recently used amphetamines or methamphetamines,” Ms Xamon said.
“We know that between 30 and 50 per cent of people with alcohol and other drug problems have a co-occurring mental illness – and there is frequently an increase in use before a person dies by suicide.”
Ms Xamon said WA had seen the greatest increase in accidental drug-related deaths with numbers doubling in the past 15 years.
She said while meth was not the main cause; illicit drugs were a key contributor.
“Drug related problems significantly impact the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Western Australians; they play a role in the removal of children across the state; they are a huge problem in our prisons. They are costing the state both socially and economically.”
Other MPs on the committee are Labor’s Samantha Rowe, Liberal’s shadow attorney general Michael Mischin, Colin Stephen de Grussa from the Nationals, and the Liberal Democrats MP Aaron Stonehouse.
The Liberal Democrats party’s national policy is to legalise “all drugs which cause less harm than alcohol and tobacco” and to decriminalise personal use of other drugs.
Mr Stonehouse also chairs a select committee inquiring into laws that “restrict personal choice ‘for the individual’s own good”, scrutinising bans on vaping and compulsory helmets for cyclists.