Celebrated philanthropist and billionaire Sir Richard Branson has called for sweeping drug reform in NSW, as activists continue to push for a pill testing trial ahead of the summer festival season.
In a video published in collaboration with Uniting, the social justice arm of the Uniting Church, the founder of Virgin Group said it was time to decriminalise drugs and “put people’s health first”.
“For God’s sake, do something about it,” he said, in a video published on Thursday.
“I think we can all agree that reforming our unfair drug laws is long overdue and incredibly important.”
He also praised the ACT for decriminalising drugs, in a first for an Australian jurisdiction.
As of Monday, the territory has reduced maximum penalties for possession of small drug quantities in an effort to divert people away from the courts, and into healthcare and counselling services.
He said it was time for NSW to do the same, following its drug summit, which will likely be in 2024, although no month or date has been announced.
He congratulated the 71 partner organisations that have championed these changes.
“Your work is so important, but more needs to be done, and I can’t wait to hear when NSW has held its long promised drug summit and listen to the evidence about sensible, compassionate and effective drug laws.”
Sir Richard is the latest high-profile voice to call for urgent drug reform.
Last week, prominent crossbencher and Sydney MP Alex Greenwich joined a contingent of peak healthcare bodies and worker unions calling for a drug checking trial ahead of a packed summer festival season.
However, NSW Premier Chris Minns has consistently said the government did not have a mandate to decriminalise drugs, with further reform delayed until the finalisation of the drug summit.
Uniting NSW and ACT’s moderator, the Reverend Mata Havea Hiliau, said there needed to be more “honest, open and ongoing” conversations about alcohol and drugs that focused on “health, safety and wellbeing”.
“Our current laws perpetuate stigma and create harm by driving people away from seeking and finding the support they need,” she said.
“The Uniting Church supports reform of our drug laws because we value every human life equally.
In October, the government announced it would implement a two-strike drug policy for people found with small, non-commercial quantities of MDMA, cocaine, ice and marijuana.
While the legislation has yet to pass through parliament, the reform would allow police to issue a maximum of two on-the-spot $400 fines, also known as a criminal infringement notices (CIN), at their discretion.
The fine is then waived if the person completes a tailored drug and alcohol intervention program.