A two-year Victorian State Parliament inquiry into the use of cannabis in Victoria was set to recommend legalising cannabis. But Premier Daniel Andrews’ Labor government intervened, removing the progressive recommendations of the inquiry’s report before it could be tabled on August 5.
The report now calls for an investigation into the impacts of legalising cannabis for adult personal use, but falls short of recommending legalisation.
Among the recommendations removed by Labor was the advice that minor cannabis convictions should be removed from an individual’s criminal record.
Advocates of cannabis legalisation say the hollowed-out report is not only disappointing, but communities will be harmed as a result.
The inquiry was set-up in 2019 to investigate ways to keep cannabis away from young people and criminals. It heard that around 29% of young Victorians use cannabis.
The inquiry investigated the outcomes of cannabis legalisation in other countries, as well as in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and the Northern Territory, where cannabis is decriminalised.
The report, chaired by MP Fiona Patten from the Reason Party, initially put forward a framework for allowing personal use of cannabis similar to laws passed in the ACT last year that allow adults to possess and grow a small amount of cannabis for personal use.
Evidence presented said the legalisation of cannabis will regulate its use, help prevent organised crime and keep people out of the criminal justice system.
Patten argued in 2018 that legalising cannabis and “subjecting it to taxes for cultivation and manufacturing” could bring in $204.6 million in revenue for the state and improved health outcomes.
Patten’s argument was backed up by parliamentary estimates, that told the inquiry that legalising cannabis could save the state $725 million over the next decade in police and enforcement costs.
But Victoria Police opposed the decriminalisation of cannabis, citing a rise in anti-social behaviour, mental health problems and road trauma.
This is despite alcohol causing far greater harm. According to VicHealth, every year “alcohol products cause more than 1200 deaths and nearly 40,000 hospitalisations”.
In comparison, cannabinoids were present in 206 drug-related deaths in the whole of Australia in 2019, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Health experts told the inquiry that the criminalisation of drug users was “not effective”.
Drug charges are more likely to be brought against First Nations peoples, the poor, people of colour and other disadvantaged groups.
According to the Australian Law Reform Commission, First Nations peoples are seven times more likely to be charged and appear in court than non-First Nations people.
The Guardian reported in June last year that NSW police pursued 80% of cannabis-related arrests against First Nations peoples, compared to about 52% of cases against others.
By opposing the legalisaton of cannabis, Labor MPs are effectively blocking measures that would reduce criminal prosecutions and help to keep young people — particularly young First Nations peoples — out of prison.