Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 30 November 2021) . . Page.. 3819 ..
The committee received evidence that the treatment sector needs significant additional resourcing and that a detailed planning process is required to ensure that it can meet demand. Decriminalisation will likely place further pressure on an under-resourced drug support and health sector. It is my view that the priority for the sector is resourcing. I am supportive of the claim for increased funding, and this is discussed further in chapter 3 of the committee report.
Generally, criminalising behaviour is a genuine disincentive to adoption of such behaviour. In this case, those who contemplate engaging in illicit drug-taking and who are influenced by whether their behaviour would amount to criminal conduct would be less likely to try these substances. The criminal sanction is a stick to avoid harmful behaviour for individuals and for the community, and an important one.
Another potential negative effect of the bill is drug tourism. Decriminalisation could lead to increased criminal activity by suppliers and distributors. It is my view that we should avoid the risk of drug producers, drug suppliers, drug distributors and drug users coming to the ACT from interstate and placing increased pressure on the police and health services.
The only source for these illicit drugs is criminal activity, and this will not change if the bill, which would be the first of its kind in Australia, is passed. Those producing and trafficking these drugs may well be encouraged to increase their criminal activity in the ACT, placing further strains on the police and drug sector.
During the inquiry there was debate about the effect of decriminalising certain drugs in Portugal. However, it is important to remember that Canberra’s contemporary circumstances do not reflect those of Portugal in the early 2000s. In particular, Portugal had a problem with heroin. This limits the generalisation of the Portugal case study for the ACT.
There was a commonwealth parliamentary inquiry into the decriminalisation of illicit drugs in Portugal. That was part of its terms of reference. The parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, a committee of the parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in 2018 conducted an inquiry into crystal methylamphetamine—ice—which concluded with a report in March 2018. This committee visited Portugal as part of its studies. It noted, about the legislative change in Portugal:
This legislative change was implemented alongside a substantial investment in drug treatment, harm reduction and social re-integration policies.
Further, the efficacy of decriminalisation in Portugal is actually disputed, and claims of success are linked to ready access to treatment, which comes back again to the issue of resourcing. In my opinion, additional resourcing will deliver more benefits to the ACT than the proposed bill.
Part 9.1 of the commonwealth Criminal Code creates various drug offences, including for possession. This raises the issue that the commonwealth law would override the