NSW Labor under pressure for drug reform after spate of shootings

“We actually need results and this session of Parliament perhaps offers more hope than what we have had for many years.”

Housing Secretary Rose Jackson and Transport Secretary Jo Haylen have previously joined with independent Alex Greenwich in supporting drug law reforms.

The aim of the summit is to replicate the success of former Prime Minister Bob Carr’s 1999 drug summit, which resulted in Australia’s first drug room at King’s Cross in Sydney.

But critics say the summit risks repeating the findings of the $11 million ice survey, whose report was released in 2020.

It took the previous government nearly three years to respond to the ice investigation report, eventually accepting 86 of the report’s 109 recommendations and rejecting recommendations on pill testing, drug detection dogs and drug decriminalization.

In response to the investigation, a landmark $500 million was announced, with $358 million going to NSW Health to close treatment gaps and improve health and social outcomes, and an additional $141 million to expand justice initiatives, including expanding access to the NSW Drug Court.

According to wastewater analysis, use of methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA, MDA, fentanyl and ketamine increased last quarter despite record seizures, with Australia ranking third for meth use compared to 24 other countries.

The number of ecstasy use or possession offenses increased by 75.7 percent in the two years to March 2023, while illicit drug offenses are the third most common type of crime nationwide, accounting for 14 percent of offenders.

Crimes related to cocaine trafficking and smuggling have also increased by 11.6 per cent in New South Wales over the past five years.

Gino Vumbaca, President of Harm Reduction Australia and Pill Testing Australia, said the organization had offered to run free pill testing trials, both during last month’s Pride month and at a future music festival, but these have not been well received.

“Rather than talking about the results from Canberra, we would have some information from NSW or Sydney on pill testing that the drugs summit could take into account,” he said.


Earlier this month, CanTest, Canberra’s pill testing service, released the results of its first six months of operation and found that more than half of the drugs tested contained unexpected substances, resulting in one in ten samples being dumped on site.

Victoria also announced last week that the government is developing a trial that would allow those who use medicinal cannabis to legally drive if they are unaffected. Currently there is no universally accepted technology for testing for cannabis impairment, only presence.

Vumbaca said he will also support a driving trial in New South Wales ahead of the summit.

“Developing a summit takes time, but in the meantime there are a few things we should try so that when we get together they have up-to-date and local data,” he said.

Legalizing Cannabis MLC Jeremy Buckingham said he believes the drug summit will look at emerging drug trends and new regulations.

Legalizing Cannabis MLC Jeremy Buckingham said he believes the drug summit will look at emerging drug trends and new regulations. Credit: Brooke Mitchell

“We fear that it will take quite a while to get the summit, the report and the review of the report to get to the services on the ground.”

While some pundits and reform advocates have warned that a drug summit could repeat the work of the ice survey, others say the drug landscape has changed enough to take a look and has broadened the scope to include therapeutic drugs.


Jeremy Buckingham, MP for legalizing cannabis in Australia, believes a summit could examine “peripheral” drug problems, including nicotine vapes, nitrous oxide lamps known as nangs, and new therapeutic treatments like psilocybin, ketamine and MDMA.

“We are constantly learning new things, change is constant. It’s a good idea to flesh out these issues in the modern context,” Buckingham said.

“We want to see meat on the bone in terms of how and commitment in terms of response, but there is an appetite for change.”

NSW Bar Association President Gabrielle Bashir, SC said the summit is about reinventing the wheel.

“There is no need for another drugs summit as that would be just as redundant and unnecessary public output given the ice investigations,” she said.

“We believe there is a clear roadmap for reform and that possession and use of small amounts of illegal substances should be decriminalized without delay.”

In its response to the ice inquiry, the previous government also asked NSW Police and the NSW Chief Health Officer to offer advice on whether the roll-out of services and support measures was sufficiently advanced to allow a pre-trial diversion program to begin as of June 30 of this year.

Labor has not yet publicly responded to or published this advice.

New South Wales Health Secretary Ryan Park referred the questions to Attorney General Michael Daley, but he did not respond to questions about the advice received.


“We recognize the need for a comprehensive look at drug policy in NSW,” said a spokesman for Daley.

“The Drugs Summit is an opportunity to gather advice from legal professionals, health professionals, the police, academics, support services, families and other stakeholders to develop a pragmatic and evidence-based approach to drug policy.”

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb did not directly respond to questions, while police declined to answer questions about the advice given.

“NSW Police recognize that the problem of illicit drug use is complex and are keen to play our part in the national drug strategy,” said a NSW Police spokesman.

“Police will continue to work with the community to detect and deter illegal and illicit drugs and their harmful effects on our society.”

Health Secretary Ryan Park said drug use is a health problem and reiterated funds announced by the previous administration to expand justice initiatives, close treatment gaps and improve health and social outcomes.

“The NSW Government Drugs Summit will bring together health and other experts to develop a collaborative, evidence-based approach to achieving positive health outcomes,” he said.

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Justin Scaccy

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