Drug reform is about how you treat people
On 5th June, to a packed crowd Dr Manuel Cardoso shared his insights on why the decriminalisation of drugs was fundamentally not only the right thing to do, but also in a society’s best interest.
Dr Cardoso has been a policy leader on drugs and addiction since 1998 and was one of the key people behind decriminalising drug use in Portugal. He is now the Deputy-Director of the Portuguese General-Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies.
Over 700 people attended, with a further 3,000 turning out to watch the live online Facebook broadcast.
Host for the evening Will Tregoning from Unharm, said the Australian drug reform movement was a “call to restructure our society on the basis of love”.
After acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, Rev. Ken Day welcomed everyone to St Stephen’s Uniting Church in Sydney, inviting everyone to “feel at home and relax”.
Dr Cardoso summarised the approach Portugal has taken to drug reform saying the eight principles contained in their national report was a balance between humanism and pragmatism. He went on to say that was was clearly and evidentially not working is sending drug users to jail, adding that it was the equivalent of sending people with treatable health issues to “a school for crime” that just teaches them “how to be real criminals”.
From a practical sense, the national implementation in Portugal of treatment networks and support teams has meant that direct and accessible services are more readily available to those in need. Another critical element was mobilising support from both sides of government and key influencers, including the Church, educators, law enforcers and the media.
End the war on drugs by declaring peace
After sharing his insights, Manuel was joined in a panel discussion by former Western Australian Premier, Emeritus Professor Geoff Gallup AC, and Dr Marianne Jauncey, Medical Director from Uniting’s Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. Everyone agreed that although the evidence is clear, having a compelling and ongoing narrative is what will ultimately change public opinion.
Reflecting on what further personal actions were required, Marianne said that everyone needed to “authorise ourselves to the be change we want to see”.
During the Q&A, a spontaneous round of applause was given to Marion McConnell, the Uniting Church member whose tireless advocacy around drug law reform was key in the Synod passing the resolution which started our campaign.
Marion shared her story about her son’s drug-related death, giving an impassioned plea that the current approach in Australia was “allowing people to die… we can’t allow this to happen… politicians have to listen to us harder”.
At its heart, drug policy reform is about people rather than drugs. It’s about respect, building a healthy community and agreeing the basic societal principles about how you treat people.
Watch a snapshot of the evening – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5n_RPDuNY6c
Dominic Streeter, Head of Advocacy Campaigns, whose team organised the event acknowledged the enormous efforts from the teams that made the evening a success.
“Thank you to everyone involved who made this evening a success. To fill a huge Church (on a wet and wintery Tuesday night) tells that there is a huge appetite for humane, evidence-based drug policy. It was compelling to hear about how the reforms in Portugal have saved many lives and driven referrals into treatment.
All the experts tell us the same thing in relation to problematic drug use: that treatment works and that criminalising the people who take drugs does not.
It is incumbent on our campaign to ensure that policy makers in NSW and the ACT hear this message loud and clear and [this] event has given us a great momentum in doing that”.
For more information on the campaign go to: https://nswact.uca.org.au/social-justice/the-social-justice-forum/drug-law-reform-campaign/