Calls grow to decriminalise cannabis in Victoria

September 28, 2022
‘Victoria’s current emphasis on law enforcement and punishment has not reduced cannabis use.’ Photo: Mohammad Faisal Pirzada/Wikimedia Commons

Victoria’s drug laws must be brought into line with community expectations and the rising evidence showing a heath-based response to drug use is the best approach, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said on September 28.

ALA spokesperson Shaun Marcus said the Labor government must shift its emphasis away from law enforcement and punishment.

“Community attitudes in Victoria towards personal drug use are changing,” he said, adding the laws must be updated to reflect this.

“Increasing evidence shows [that] a health-based response is the right approach to personal drug use.”

The ALA has been calling for drug law reform for many years. It is part of a group of organisations and individuals calling on the government to decriminalise cannabis use.

Fifteen organisations signed an open letter calling on the Premier to listen to experts across the legal, mental health, Aboriginal justice, youth justice and alcohol and other drugs sectors and support the decriminalisation of cannabis.

The letter quoted the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service saying: “Decriminalisation not only allows reallocation of court and legal resources, but vastly improves social and health outcomes for community and families.”

The letter said: “For most people who use cannabis, it’s a minor part of their life. But for people whose cannabis use becomes a problem, decriminalisation means they can reach out for help without the threat of an arrest.”

The National Drug Household Survey in 2019 showed that 36% of Australians over 14 have used cannabis at some stage in their life, and 600,000 Victorians use cannabis each year.

“Victoria’s current emphasis on law enforcement and punishment has not reduced cannabis use,” Marcus said. “Laws are only worthwhile and effective if they are respected by the community. If a law is regularly flouted, this is a telling sign that it has lost its authority and should be repealed.”

Marcus said more people believe that using cannabis should not make you a criminal. He said spending millions of dollars annually on “the pointless prosecution of drug users”, clogged up court systems and led to people — especially the young — “ending up with criminal records that last a lifetime”.

“Taxpayer funds are wasted prosecuting people who use cannabis, and police time is wasted charging them.

“We also know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, young people and homeless people are disproportionately affected by the current drug laws.”

Research shows that since the ACT decriminalised cannabis, use did not increase, “but instead allows an increased focus on health and social support for users”. The ACT introduced new laws in 2020 for people aged 18 and above for the personal use of cannabis.

Marcus said evidence from a range of countries “show that the decriminalisation of cannabis works”.

Meanwhile, the Australian Greens are preparing a draft bill to decriminalise cannabis use across the country. David Shoebridge said the Greens received legal advice that federal parliament could override state laws to legalise recreational marijuana use.

If successful, Australia would join Germany, Canada, Uruguay, South Africa, Jamaica, Mexico, Malta and at least 19 states in the United States in decriminalising cannabis for personal use.

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