Page 3401 - Week 10 - Thursday, 20 October 2022

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with its actual effect. This is a bill that recognises the failings of the criminal justice system to grapple with the harms that can result from drugs, but it only seeks to reduce criminal contact in some ways.

This approach is more humane, but it is not for everyone and not complete. In the broad, this situationally-more-humane approach is effected by a personal possession limit being created for some substances which sits at some point below the trafficable quantities prescribed by the Criminal Code Regulation 2005. Where there is such a limit imposed and the person possesses an amount less than that limit, the maximum penalty is reduced from one year in prison and 50 penalty units to one penalty unit, which is $160.

For these lower-level possession amounts, it also makes available a defence notice which can be discharged without criminal proceedings or conviction, upon payment of $100. The government amendments to be proposed by the Minister for Health improve this somewhat, allowing possession limits to be designated by regulation, reducing the prison time for possession offences and allowing offender notices to be discharged for attending a diversion program.

What we do know is that the vast majority of Canberrans want meaningful drug law reform. They agree that drug use should be treated as the health issue that it is. We, as a community, know that the best thing we can do for each other is to avoid these mechanisms of stigma and shame that create and exacerbate harms to drug users and, in my view, the wider community. The way we keep faith with that aspiration is not be intimidated by scare campaigns but to engage in the kind of meaningful reform that will truly enable a health-centric conversation about drug use in our jurisdiction.

We have already recognised in this place that, as it relates to cannabis, a criminal-justice-first approach is ineffective and harmful, and thus we created the exception for adults using cannabis to disapply possession offences. If we accept that harm reduction is the aim of these reforms as well and that a criminal justice approach is ineffective and harmful for them too, it should follow that we reach the same conclusion.

This is what the experts tell us would be the most effective in reducing harm. This is what people with lived experience tell us would be the most effective, and this is what is more closely aligned to what all parties here today have advocated for: protecting individuals in the community. We are obviously going to have a very animated debate today. We have had a preview of that, but at the end of the day it is an interesting agreement. We all want less crime in the community. We want our community to be safer. We want people to live healthier lives. I guess the debate is: how do we get there and what is the right mechanism to achieve that?

A number of my colleagues have discounted the value of the improvements that the bill and the government amendments will make. An offence notice is substantially less trauma than proceeding through the criminal justice system, but it does still invite the police as the answer to what fundamentally is a health issue. This will, to some extent, maintain stigma and shame, and for people whose lives may be in a serious state of crisis that $100 could well be a very difficult sum to arrange.

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