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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 30 November 2021) . . Page.. 3818 ..


It seemed, in my opinion, that there were three views on the bill presented by those who engaged with the inquiry, both in submissions and in public and private hearings: to reject it or express strong reservations about it; to modify it so that it would only apply to cannabis and MDMA or cocaine; or to support it, sometimes with changes around which drugs are listed and the settings of the personal possession limits.

The submissions that rejected the bill argued that the ACT already has an effective approach to drugs. Both the ACT Law Society and a former ACT Attorney-General, Mr Stefaniak, argued that, given that ACT police are already diverting drug users from the criminal justice system, the bill would have limited additional effect. The Law Society stated:

… it is relatively uncommon for drug users to come to the courts charged only with drug possession … In cases where a police officer detects a person in possession of only a small quantity of an illicit drug for the first time, we understand that the Australian Federal Police is already adopting a diversionary approach.

The ACT government, ACT Policing and the AFP Association recommended a staged approach. ACT Policing was concerned about the practicalities of how the new law would be enforced. Police can at least visually identify cannabis and MDMA with reasonable accuracy and test these substances at the roadside. This is not so easy for other substances which may be in pill or powder form of various colours.

Participants in the inquiry who supported the bill emphasised the benefits of decriminalisation, such as reduced harm, reduced stigma and increased use of drug treatment services. However, we have yet to see an independent review of the implementation of the simple cannabis offence under the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Act 2019. Surely, such a review is a prerequisite to further decriminalisation options.

This is a complex matter involving justice, health and social services, where a change in one area will often have effects across government. Accordingly, drug policy requires a whole-of-government evaluation and response. This more comprehensive approach is far superior to that of a member presenting an initiative that only addresses one aspect of government operations responding to the use of harmful drugs.

It is also clear, given statements by the Chief Minister after the passage of the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Act 2019—and I refer to a Canberra Weekly article on 29 September 2019—that this really is a Labor Party position, and it is disingenuous to have one of their members present the bill in his capacity as a private member. The ACT Greens have a well-established position in support of decriminalisation.

In my view, the government should be willing to take full ownership of the impact of these harmful substances by developing a whole-of-government package that deals with the criminal, policing, health and regulatory aspects of removing this gross harm from our community.


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