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Estimates: Asking Qld's Mental Health Commissioner about decriminalising drugs

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Thursday 29 July 2022, I asked the Queensland Mental Health Commissioner about decriminalising drugs in Queensland and whether criminalisation acts as a barrier for people to access support. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: The ACT government recently moved to decriminalise possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. Given that this was also a recommendation of the 2019 Queensland Productivity Commission report into recidivism, has the commission considered what benefits this approach might have in Queensland as a harm reduction measure?

Mr Frkovic: As a function of the Queensland Mental Health Commission, one of our roles is to support the government in developing a position around alcohol and other drugs in Queensland. As part of that process, in consultation obviously with government but also the crossbenches and the broader Queensland community, we have done work on a new drug and alcohol plan for Queensland which obviously has been slightly delayed. We have just had a parliamentary inquiry which also unpacked a lot of these issues. That plan now is with government for consideration. As the member would be aware, there is a spectrum of different responses around responding to people who may use illicit substances but also alcohol and other drugs more broadly. One of the options that certainly came through very strongly of where Queensland is at in terms of our infrastructure and where the community is at is that we have a much stronger focus at this particular point in time on diversion more broadly across all substances, which I think also points to a long-term strategy and thinking about what decriminalisation versus diversion at this particular point in time means for Queensland and people who obviously have a level of addiction that they are currently dealing with. I think the principle, certainly from the work we did with the community, was that this was not about going soft on drugs; this was really about ensuring that people who have an addiction get the right response—people who are not traffickers, manufacturers, suppliers but people who have a health problem—and get into health support and treatment rather than into the criminal justice system.

Mr BERKMAN: Is it fair to say that for people who are using it purely for personal use and possession criminalisation could act as a barrier to people accessing health supports if they are facing addiction issues personally?

Mr Frkovic: Definitely, and I think there is enough evidence to be able to support that.

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