The Options For Drug Law Reform In Australia

Criminal Law Mar 22, 2023 #Drug Law
The Options For Drug Law Reform In Australia

Many of the people that are currently in a residential drug rehab facility have arrived there as a result of the criminal justice system and, specifically, a court decided that, based on the circumstances of that individual, a stay in drug rehab would be more beneficial than sending them to prison. The fact that a person is addicted to drugs rather than someone who supplies or manufactures them illegally makes a huge difference.

Whilst the court sending them to drug rehab rather than prison is rightly seen as a more enlightened approach, many feel strongly that the criminal justice in Australia and specifically the law related to drugs is not fit for purpose and needs a radical rethink and subsequent overhaul.

From the outset, one of the problems with changes to the laws relating to drug use is that there are people with a vast array of different views, solutions, and ideas, and so there is no single approach from those who wish to see change. Weigh that up against those who oppose changes to drug laws, of which there are many, and you can see why any changes happening are not going to occur without a long and serious debate.

Nevertheless, it does not mean we cannot consider what possible changes there might be and what those who are most keen on changes in drug laws are advocating for, so let us do just that and look at some of the options.

Universal Prohibition

Some feel that drug laws do not go far enough and that the criminal justice system should go all out for the full prohibition of drugs that are not deemed for use within the health system, such as those prescribed by a doctor. If in place, it would mean that not only would the supply of illegal drugs be a crime as it is now, but any and all use of drugs would too. This includes cannabis, and some even advocate that medicinal cannabis, such as CBD oil, should be made illegal too.

Status Quo

This view holds that not only should the current drug laws remain in place but that no changes need to take place. This would mean that the so-called hard drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin would remain so and that the supply and use of them remain serious criminal offences. The argument against such an approach is the evidence that current drug laws do little to address the problems of drug use including the criminal gangs who supply them.


With depenalisation, the view is that supplying drugs would still be a criminal offence but possession of illicit drugs and the use of them, although still a criminal offence, would result in lighter punishments. Lighter punishments would include mandatory attendance to drug therapy, enrolment in drug rehab, and drug education programs. The argument is these have a far more positive impact on society by getting people off drugs rather than simply sending them to prison.


This approach seeks to create a clear distinction between those who use drugs and those who manufacture or supply them. It still means supplying illegal drugs is a criminal offence for which the penalties would still include imprisonment. However, for those who use drugs and are addicted to them, a more therapeutic approach is suggested, with a greater emphasis on education, therapy, drug rehab and resources designed to treat the drug users rather than criminalise them.


This bold approach would mean that some so-called recreational drugs would be legal, although some argue all drugs should be. As such, rather than criminals making gains from drugs, the supply would be switched to authorised outlets such as pharmacies. Whilst unlikely to happen for harder drugs,  cannabis has long been cited as a drug that should be legalised. One benefit of this could be the taxes raised from the sales of legalised drugs being invested in drug rehab programs.