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NT has high hopes for drug decriminalising

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner. Picture: Justin Kennedy

A parliamentary committee in the Northern Territory will examine the possibility of decriminalising all drugs, as Chief Minister Michael Gunner opened the door to a new “health ­approach” to the issue.

Assistant Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services Jeff Collins, who has been lobbying for drug decriminalisation, will lead the committee, which will report back in Aug­ust next year.

“It’s certainly a long way ­beyond simply the decrimin­alisation of marijuana,” he said yesterday.

“It comes from my trip to Portugal last year to have a look at their system where they decriminalised all drugs in 2001 … We’re looking at something similar.”

Mr Gunner said there “seems to have been some good outcomes in having a health-based ­approach in other parts of the world”.

“No one in Australia has done it yet. Quite a few American states have,” he said after being asked by media whether he planned to decriminalise marijuana. “I do think it’s going to become a more common topic in Australia.

“At the moment we have shown we are not always as progressive as other parts of the world … We’re probably behind the ­conversation … around how you handle drugs in this country.”

Asked about the potential for marijuana tourism in the NT, he said: “Can you do something ­Amsterdam-style as well, which is a different approach again? There are lots of models out there that could be explored.”

Alan Clough, a James Cook University epidemiologist who has conducted in-depth studies of marijuana use in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT and Queensland, said the government was sending a “mixed message”.

The communities were dealing with extremely high rates of marijuana use in particular, with associated mental health and social problems including violence during withdrawal periods when the drug could not be accessed.

“Treating it as a health problem is far better than treating it as a criminal justice problem, but it will be very confusing for indigenous community people,” he said.

“Many communities, particularly the elders, will be no doubt concerned their young people might be more readily exposed to cannabis use. The challenge of keeping them (young people) away from it right now is virtually insurmountable.”

Marijuana was more entrenched in remote communities than drugs such as ice, and suppliers were making “extortionate and enormous” profits, he said. “It’s a huge financial impact. I’m not sure legalisation would remove that market very quickly.

“I can’t see the reason for it. I’m not aware of an upswell of demand in the NT to change the legislation. It just seems a bit of a show — a good reason to go to Portugal.”

The select committee on a NT harm reduction strategy for ­addictive behaviours will look at various issues, including the scale of illicit drug use and impacts.

Mr Collins said marijuana had already been decriminalised to a large extent in the NT, where adults in possession of up to 50g of marijuana can have a fine imposed instead of facing a criminal conviction. “The whole point of decriminalisation is … providing people with appropriate education and assistance.” Originally published here:

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