Decriminalisation Discussion Paper Possession and Use of Drugs: Options for Changing the Law

Uniting’s Discussion Paper delves into options for changing the law around the drug possession and use.

It was a collaborative effort between Uniting’s Emma Maiden and Dr Tom McClean and Fair Treatment partners Prof. Alison Ritter, Will Tregoning, Dr Marianne Jauncey. They formed a working group to explore preferred decriminalisation models.

The group spoke at a launch for the paper in Sydney, against the colourful backdrop of the 10th Annual Art from the Heart of the Cross exhibit. The exhibit is an initiative by Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) that gives clients the opportunity to express themselves and offer their work as part of a silent auction.

Decriminalisation Discussion Paper Launch (Left to right: Will Tregoning, Dr Marianne Jauncey, Prof Alison Ritter, Emma Maiden)

Key takeaways

The paper says people who use drugs are among the most stigmatised members of our society, and there is a desperate need for laws to change.

It acknowledges an alignment with a comprehensive decriminalisation model, that applies to all drugs, does not apply civil sanctions, and abolishes threshold quantities.

This is because civil sanctions, such as fines and community service notices, can exacerbate the underlying disadvantage of which drug dependency is often a symptom.

It recommends a staged approach to remove a fundamental feature of Australian drug law – threshold quantities. These quantities use the weight of the drug to distinguish drug use/possession and supply and are a somewhat arbitrary measure. The paper refers to countries like Spain, Denmark and Uruguay which do not use threshold quantities. Instead, these countries rely on other evidence, including processing paraphernalia, or evidence of large transactions, to establish supply.


The paper’s forward features Uniting NSW.ACT Executive Director Tracey Burton and Uniting Church NSW.ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford. They explained that the paper was deliberately written to increase our understanding of a complex topic and encourage conversation.

“Many issues we face today involve complex ethical dilemmas without simple answers,” they write.

“We are guided by our Christian faith and the way Jesus astonished people with his grace, acceptance, and forgiveness, before he ever offered a word of judgment.”

“We observe that sometimes we must have the courage to take risks and break conventions, as Jesus did.”

In 2016, the Synod passed two resolutions supporting the decriminalisation of personal possession of small amounts of prohibited drugs and increased investment in drug and alcohol treatment.

The Fair Treatment campaign was created in 2018.

Originally written by Ashley Donnelly and published on on November 26 2020