Nine out of 10 Katherine residents would like to see drugs decriminalised in the NT, a new survey reveals.
Out of more than 200 votes on the Katherine Times survey, 89 per cent of Katherine residents agreed the current approach is not working.
A NT minister is also pushing for new legislation to reduce the rates of people entering the system for small personal use quantities of drugs.
Assistant minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services Jeff Collins instead wants to see harm reduction strategies implemented.
He stressed the proposed legislation would only affect personal use quantities of drugs.
“We’re not talking about decriminalising the assaults or the associated criminal activity that sometimes goes hand in hand with drug abuse,” Mr Collins said.
“What we are talking about is when it is a simple possession and drug use charge. We take these people out of the system and put them into a more therapeutic system, a health care system so we can try and provide them with the best opportunity to make better decisions for themselves, for their families and their communities.
“Decriminalisation in isolation is about really trying to access users of illicit drugs and being able to get to them more effectively to provide education and treatment pathways.
“If somebody gets themselves into drugs they often find themselves in the criminal justice system, that impinges their ability to go out and get a job, it stigmatises them, it marginalises them, it makes performing as a normal member of the community very difficult,” Mr Collins said.
Mr Collins is part of a new NT Government committee, established in May to review the evidence on effective harm reduction strategies used to address health problems associated with illicit drug-use and other addictive behaviours such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling.
The Northern Territory Harm Reduction Strategy for Addictive Behaviours includes Katherine’s own MLA Sandra Nelson, Kezia Purick, Gary Higgins and Paul Kirby.
The committee will look into the current scale and trends of illicit drug-use in the Territory and its impacts upon health, justice, drug and alcohol and law enforcement activities.
The committee also hopes to provide strategies for reducing the impact of these behaviours on families and the broader community.
Mr Collins will be in Katherine in December as part of a wider look at how decriminalising drugs could work.
The committee will be holding the first public forum in Darwin on September 27.
Following that, meetings will also be held in Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and Katherine.
Mr Collins said he would like to hear from local people, service providers, health practitioners, police and families about how new legislation could help communities.
The push follows Mr Collins’ recent visit to Portugal to assess their successful drug decriminalisation program, which has been running since 2001.
“When this decriminalisation approach was first taken up, Lisbon (Portugal) was considered one of the most crime ridden capitals in Europe and the change over that period has been astonishing really,” Mr Collins said.
“The decriminalisation process that was adopted in Portugal does not effect those traffickable or commercial quantities. They stay exactly as they are… all you are doing is taking [personal use quantities] and applying a new legislative scheme that provides these people with education and treatment.
“Deaths from overdoses have dropped from about about 400 per year to about 40 per year and their usage rates of opioids have dropped.
“There has been a slight increase in the use of cannabis use, but in the scheme of things, that is probably not, in terms of a trade-off between opioid use and cannabis use, it is probably a better thing.
“Their associated crime has dropped dramatically as well.”
Mr Collins said he is hoping the NT Government will consider the committee’s recommendations when completed.
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