Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (28 November) . . Page.. 4941 ..
could instead be used to tackle more harmful illicit substance suppliers or other justice issues.
Here in the ACT, on average, almost one Canberran every day is arrested for cannabis consumption and over 50 per cent of all drug-related arrests are of cannabis consumers. This results in a waste of police resources focusing on recreational cannabis users who are causing no harm to anyone except potentially themselves. If cannabis is legalised, however, we can stop recreational users getting criminal records and allocate police resources so that they focus on dangerous criminals.
As a restorative justice city, we should focus on harm minimisation policies and reducing the excessive criminalisation of certain offences. Once individuals interact with the criminal justice system, it can snowball into more serious offences and penalties—a cycle which can be hard to break. Getting caught with a small amount of cannabis should not ruin someone's life. We need to legalise cannabis.
A further benefit of legalised cannabis from a criminal justice perspective is that it would stop money going into the hands of organised crime. Rather than bikie gangs controlling the sale of cannabis and taking the profits, Canberrans could grow their own plants. This will also, hopefully, limit the interaction that ordinary Canberrans have with organised crime. One gateway theory that I do subscribe to is that the real gateway is the drug dealer. They have a financial incentive to push harder drugs on to consumers. By restricting interaction with these people—drug dealers—we can reduce the revenue of criminal gangs by making them unnecessary. Given the option, recreational users of cannabis would rather act within the law, and this bill will enable that.
This bill will not completely remove restrictions regarding cannabis. Growing more than four plants and artificially growing cannabis will remain illegal. Selling cannabis and supplying cannabis to minors will also remain illegal, as they are under current laws. New offences will need to be introduced to make smoking cannabis in a public place, or within 20 metres of a minor, illegal, and that is what this bill does. Driving under the influence of drugs is illegal now and will remain illegal. My bill will simply allow adult recreational users to naturally grow and consume the substance in a safe way, while not affecting the wider community.
Let me address some of the concerns that were raised with me about this bill during the consultation process. To those who may question whether this change is really necessary, I say yes. As I have shown, criminalisation itself causes harm. The majority of Canberrans support changing the law. There is clear community desire for change. Some people raised concerns about the mental health effects of cannabis. Studies have shown that cannabis can have a negative impact on the mental health of those who have pre-existing mental health conditions or those who are genetically predisposed to having one. The current system is not preventing these people from using cannabis, but the prospect of a criminal record is not going to improve anyone's mental health and, ultimately, it may stop people seeking professional help when they need it.
Excessive cannabis use should always be viewed as a health concern, not dealt with in the criminal justice system. Legalising cannabis will not change other laws associated