End of the war on drugs? Victorian government told to consider cannabis decriminalisation

The Victorian upper house drug law reform report recommended establishing an advisory council.

The Victorian upper house drug law reform report recommended establishing an advisory council. Photo: Getty

The Victorian government has been told to consider decriminalising recreational cannabis in a 640-page parliamentary report.

The long-awaited report, handed down on Tuesday, said decriminalising ‘adult use’ of cannabis was “worthy of investigation”.

Its 50 recommendations included establishing a new advisory council to research options and advise the government on its next move.

The report noted cannabis was the most popular illicit drug, and “one of the less harmful substances when compared to others such as alcohol or heroin”.

“Given these issues, countries around the world are considering the regulation and supply of cannabis.”

It also found drug use should be treated as a health issue, rather than a law enforcement issue.

Victoria Police already has the discretion to put those apprehended for possession through drug diversion programs, but the committee said this was accessed inconsistently.

Committee chair, Labor’s MP Geoff Howard, insisted a move away from the ‘war on drugs’ did not mean going soft on crime.

“Rather, it emphasises that law enforcement responses to illicit drug use should focus on trafficking and criminal behaviour arising from use, while people apprehended solely for use and personal possession be directed to a range of treatment and support options, where necessary,” he said.

This would require additional funding to ensure treatment is available, with support options currently “chronically underfunded”.

The report also recommended reviewing the threshold amount for possession to ensure users aren’t convicted as traffickers.

The state government has until later this year to consider the 50 recommendations.

A spokesperson told AAP the government would give the findings “the consideration it deserves and respond in the coming months”.

Other recommendations

The committee called for a ‘back of house’ pill testing trial at an appropriate music festival, which would be accessible to emergency workers but not to punters.

The public would be alerted to substances causing adverse reactions at the event through an early warning system under the recommendation.

Fiona Measham, who pioneered pill testing in the UK, said it was “great to read that the Victorian government inquiry recognises the value of onsite drug safety testing”.

“I would also hope that there would be a recognition of the value of allowing the general public to use such a service too,” Professor Measham told The New Daily.

“Here in the UK we have found that it is an excellent way to engage drug users in dialogue with healthcare professionals who do not usually visit drugs services and if they have been miss-sold drugs, the majority throw them away.”

‪The report recommended re-assessing the state’s drug driving laws to measure impairment, not just the presence of drugs.

It also recommended reviewing the effectiveness and use of sniffer dogs.

Reason Party leader Fiona Patten, who called for the inquiry in 2015, said it was the most comprehensive report into drug law reform Australia had seen in decades.

She did not believe the recommendations went far enough, but conceded it reflected current community attitudes to drug policy.

Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Alex Wodak told triple j radio the report was “politically achievable” and digestible.

Dr Wodak – who helped establish a needle syringe program in 1986 and Sydney’s medically-supervised injecting centre in 1999, and was referred to throughout the parliamentary report – said the war on drugs had failed.

“There’s a constant pressure on the market to make smaller drugs that are more powerful, but smaller drugs which are more powerful and occupy less volume are more dangerous,” he said.

“This is one of the many reasons why we need to put less pressure on law enforcement and more pressure on health and social measures.”

-with AAP

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