Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 2 Hansard (20 February) . . Page.. 496 ..
Alison Ritter have argued that some of the greatest harms of illicit drugs come from the fact that they are illegal. We must focus on the minimisation of unnecessary harm for Canberrans by removing the stigma of criminal penalties and removing the barriers to people seeking health care to access services and seek help to address their health issues.
Whilst cannabis has been decriminalised in the ACT since 1992, that does not mean that possession of small quantities will not result in criminal charges. Many people in our community would be surprised to know that so-called decriminalisation of our laws may still lead to criminal charges for small amounts of cannabis. Under the simple cannabis offence notice, SCON, scheme, a person possessing up to 50 grams of dried cannabis, or one or two cannabis plants, excluding all hydroponically or artificially cultivated cannabis plants, can be issued with a penalty order fine where it is deemed by police to be personal use only. If the fine is paid within 60 days, no criminal record will be recorded. However, failure to pay the penalty order may result in criminal proceedings before the court, and police have discretion to issue a SCON or charge an offender with a criminal offence. So decriminalisation may lead to a criminal charge. In 2016-17, 304 people were arrested for the consumption of cannabis in the ACT, with only 82 SCONs issued, according to research conducted by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
Whether it is a fine or a charge, our current framework is out of step with the community's views on how cannabis should be treated today. While the decriminalisation approach may have led Australia in the early 1990s, times have changed. Cannabis should be legalised and not just decriminalised.
Public sentiment is not the only reason for doing this. Policing of cannabis alone costs the Australian taxpayers a significant amount of money every year. The Australian Institute of Criminology claims that cannabis law enforcement costs the Australian community well in excess of $300 million per year, and policing cannabis accounts for three-quarters of the total cost of Australia's illegal drug enforcement.
Policing the possession of small amounts of cannabis is a waste of police resources and taxpayer money. As well as public health experts and criminologists, senior police officers and judges, there are many advocates for the legalisation of cannabis within Australia. Former AFP Commissioner Mick Palmer argues that the current nature of law enforcement discriminates against people who are the most vulnerable. He believes that law enforcement is wrongly focused on the use or possession of substances like cannabis, targeting vulnerable groups such as Indigenous people, the homeless or those suffering from mental health issues. Mr Palmer, along with retired New South Wales Supreme Court judge Hal Sperling and 14 other experts from the Australia21 think tank, have supported a different approach to drugs in Australia, including legalisation, following the lead of other jurisdictions around the world in their approach to cannabis.
I want to address another issue that has been raised in regard to this bill, its interaction with commonwealth law. Experts such as the National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Greg Barns, have pointed out that there is no constitutional barrier to the Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory taking action in this