Over the past few months, MP Fiona Patten and the Legislative Council of Legal and Social Issues Committee have been collecting expert (and some not-so-expert) opinions as part of the Use of Cannabis in Victoria inquiry.
While a few experts have had some interesting perspectives (cough cough Gary Christian and his cannabis-creates-homicide scaremongering), other experts have advocated for cannabis decriminalisation or even legalisation in the name of harm reduction.
One of those experts was Sione Crawford, Chief Executive Officer of Harm Reduction Victoria. During Crawford’s speech, he pointed out that Australia’s current cannabis market is “unregulated”. In his view, this unregulated market is a hotbed of unfettered criminal activity, not to mention detrimental to people addicted to drugs. When cannabis is criminalised, people who need support for drug addiction won’t get it for fear of criminal and social consequences.
In a nutshell, Crawford says that “bringing cannabis use out of the shadows” and destigmatising it will improve public health, decrease criminal activity and reduce discrimination.
A regulated cannabis market for Victoria is the best means to prevent criminal activity relating to cannabis trade in Victoria.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia (SSDP) Operations Manager Julia Daly echoed a similar sentiment. Daly pointed out that the best way to reduce the size of the cannabis black market is through providing legal, age-restricted ways for people to buy cannabis. This approach is safer for young people, too.
We believe that the best way to promote broader public health, reduce harms for young people and prevent criminal activity related to cannabis is by legalising it, regulating and taxing it.
Young people currently use cannabis at a higher rate than other age groups. According to the government’s Household Drugs Survey, 24% of 20 to 29-year-olds have used cannabis in the past twelve months. Young people are also the target of misinformation about safe cannabis use – including the New South Wales government’s stoner sloth campaign.
Safety was a key theme of many of the inquiry’s presentations, including the one given by Gateway Health’s Chief Executive Officer Leigh Rhode and Program Manager Maryanne Donnellan. Their presentation identified several safety risks that cannabis users face, including the dangerously high prevalence of synthetic cannabis, manipulation by criminals, and exclusion from public health services.
Ultimately, Professor Dan Lubman from Turning Point seemed to have summed it up best when he said, “a new approach is needed”. As he points out in his speech, over 70,000 Australians are arrested for cannabis offences annually, with 90% of these related to possession. This criminalisation “undeniably causes harm”, and Australia simply needs a new way forward.
The Inquiry is expected to deliver its report on August 5th.
If you’d like to learn more about the speeches made during the Use of Cannabis Inquiry, you can view the presentations on the Victorian Parliament website or watch this video capturing key moments below.