CALL FOR CHANGE: Greens candidate for Cowper, Carol Vernon, is calling for Australia to adopt Portugal’s approach to dealing with drug users.
CALL FOR CHANGE: Greens candidate for Cowper, Carol Vernon, is calling for Australia to adopt Portugal’s approach to dealing with drug users. Trevor Veale

Greens call for decriminalisation of drugs

GREENS candidate for Cowper Carol Vernon is calling for Australia to follow Portugal's lead and start treating drug addiction as a health issue rather than a crime.

Ms Vernon said millions of dollars are being spent locking up small time users that could otherwise be spent on treatment.

She cited drug decriminalisation laws in Portugal that has shifted funds from prosecuting users into rehabilitating them as a policy Australia should consider.

"The current approach is clearly not working," Ms Vernon said.

"Australia has one of the highest rates of illicit drug use in the world, despite our no tolerance policy.

"(The Greens) believe that drug dealers should be prosecuted but we think it's better to treat individual users through the health system."

The National Ice Taskforce last year found Australians were among the world's biggest users of crystal methylamphetamine, with the number of addicts doubling to more than 200,000 in the past eight years.

It's chair, Ken Lay, agrees a hard-line approach to ice is not the answer but said he believes decriminalisation of the drug was unlikely to receive wide support in Australia.

Ms Vernon said the current approach was "failing the people of Cowper" and "putting lives at risk"

"We have a situation where people who are addicted and need medical help are being arrested or locked up in jail, instead of being given the treatment they need," Ms Vernon said.

"Right now, that treatment is not always available - we need to be prioritising helping people get well rather than simply locking them up.

"We are in the process of consulting with the community, police, law enforcement and doctors to discuss what a new approach to drug use could like in Australia."

While it's still illegal to carry or use marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other similar substances in Portugal none of those offences earn offenders jail time but rather a small fine or rehab.

The Greens will table the approach during the National Drug Summit in Canberra on March 2.