Page 451 - Week 02 - Thursday, 11 February 2021

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I have talked with people from all walks of life, and I have learnt that community values towards drug use are completely different to what they were 30 years ago when this Assembly became responsible for our drug laws. Even the Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs of the previous Assembly recognised this, and recommendation 46 of the report on youth mental health in the ACT was to “consider further criminal justice diversion for young drug users by investigating a simple drug offence”. That was not a majority Labor committee; that was a majority Liberal committee with the now Leader of the Opposition a member. Following that committee report, I moved a motion in the Assembly on 20 August 2020, just two months before the ACT election, calling on the ACT government to decriminalise the personal possession of small amounts of drugs by investigating a simple drug offence notice. For the record, this received tri-partisan support two months before the ACT election.

If the experts, the community and legislators on all sides of politics recognise that our drug laws need to be reformed, then now is the time to act. So let us make it happen. Here is a bill to do just that. There are some in the community who have sought to miscategorise what drug law reform is all about. There are some who are saying that I am encouraging drug use. I want to be very clear: drugs are very dangerous. I urge people not to use them, for their own wellbeing and for the community’s sake. The quality of these illicit substances varies from batch to batch. More often than not, these illicit drugs are cooked up in terrible circumstances—in bikies’ bathtubs with no safety measures or precautions. Drugs can cause lifelong health complications or even death.

The pill-testing trial of the 2019 Groovin the Moo music festival uncovered at least seven pills that contained potentially deadly additives; but we all know that this does not stop people from using them. If it did, we would not be where we are currently. If people choose to consume drugs, regardless of health or legal risks, we as legislators have a responsibility to ensure that, where we can, we reduce the harm. After the changes to our cannabis laws in 2019, we have seen how people who need to seek treatment for their drug use are able to access that help free of the spectre of the justice system.

Since personal possession of cannabis was legalised, according to wastewater analysis, usage has remained the same. Police data shows that drug driving offences have remained steady. ACT Health data shows that there has been no increase in cannabis-related hospital visits. At the time, conservative voices from all over the country criticised this step in the ACT. They said that the sky would fall in, and whilst COVID-19 did happen, so they are partly right, it had very little to do with cannabis law reform in the ACT. Well, it has been over a year since cannabis was legalised. We can all see that those worst predictions did not come true.

For those conservative naysayers, I want to be very clear on what these new laws propose and do not propose. Drug driving, trafficking and supply will all still be criminal offences, as they should be. This bill is not about encouraging drug use. This bill aims to give people the support and help that they need instead of being unnecessarily put through a criminal justice system that is not designed to provide health care. Most of the time, drug consumers, instead of suppliers, are the ones

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