Page 450 - Week 02 - Thursday, 11 February 2021

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That the resolution of the Assembly for Tuesday 9 February 2020 setting the Assembly’s program of business for today be amended to allow Private Members business Notice No 1 being called on forthwith.

Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Bill 2021

Mr Pettersson, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and its explanatory statement.

Title read by Clerk.

MR PETTERSSON (Yerrabi) (11.07): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

I rise today to introduce the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Bill 2021. This bill will amend the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 with the effect of decriminalising the possession of small amounts of some illicit drugs. Instead of penalising with a criminal conviction people who use drugs, this bill will allow a simple offence notice to be issued, the substance to be confiscated and the user referred to a medical professional. I believe that it is time for our drug laws to reflect our values. Thanks to the National Drug Strategy household survey 2019, we know that the overwhelming majority of Australians want to see people who use drugs given a warning or a fine or be referred to a medical program when caught in possession of small amounts.

The community has moved on from the war on drugs and it is time to move on from criminalisation. We know that the traditional “just say no” approach has not worked. Try as we might, trying to scare people into not using drugs by threatening them with jail has not stopped people using drugs. Instead, it has just criminalised people and put people in jail. This approach has not and will never neutralise the complex reasons behind why a person chooses to use drugs in the first place. Put simply, the threat of jail time or a criminal record does not deter people from taking drugs. It never has and it never will.

We know that more than 43 per cent of Australians aged over 14 have used at some point in their life what has been considered an illicit drug. Should every one of these people receive a prison sentence or criminal conviction? Of course, the answer is no, but our laws say they can and often have. I think that a lot of us in this chamber can agree that the historical approach is flawed and is not working as intended.

Since the announcement of this bill back in December, I have had many members of the community reach out to me in support. I have heard from people struggling with addiction who are too afraid to reach out for help for fear of criminal justice repercussions. I have met with grieving parents who have lost their children to these substances. I have met with experts and researchers who desperately want to see our laws changed. I have also met with law enforcement members and their representatives. United across all of these different groups, these people want to reduce harm. Seemingly, it is a question of “how” not “if”.

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