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Legislative Council

01 November 2023
Second reading
Rachel Payne  (LC)


Rachel PAYNE (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (10:04): I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

We can drastically reduce law enforcement and justice system costs.

We can take multimillion-dollar profits out of the hands of organised crime.

We can stop the disproportionate negative impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians and young people.

We can reduce harm and we can educate.

We can turn the consequence of stigma on its head.

We can, by responsibly regulating the adult use of cannabis.

Over one-third of Victorian adults have consumed cannabis in their lifetime. More young people consume cannabis than tobacco. Decades of prohibition have not succeeded in denting demand or supply; it is failed policy.

As a community we are benefiting from cannabis as a lawful medicine for a range of serious medical conditions. And modern research is showing us that the harms associated with cannabis have been misrepresented and overstated historically.

Cannabis is significantly less harmful that both alcohol and tobacco.

A majority of ordinary Victorians support legalised cannabis and the vast majority, around 78 per cent, believe that possession of cannabis should not be a crime.

In Victoria, in the year to September 2021, there were almost 9000 people charged with cannabis use and possession offences – accounting for 92 per cent of all cannabis offences in Victoria during that period.

In the three years to June 2019, 11,498 people were sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria for simple possession and over 1100 of those people were jailed – over 1100 Victorians jailed just for possessing cannabis. Let that sink in.

The cost of enforcement is massive. Nationally, in 2015–16, more than $1.7 billion was spent on cannabis-related law enforcement, including $1.1 billion on imprisonment, $475 million on police, $62 million on courts, $52 million on legal aid and prosecution, and $25 million on community corrections.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

But cannabis reform is about much more than money.

The human cost of a drug conviction on a young person’s future can be devastating.

Research shows that First Nations people, and others from socially disadvantaged groups, are at greater risk of harm from the criminalisation of cannabis.

People sourcing cannabis through illicit markets may be exposed to violence and the true ‘gateway’ – the dealers who are giving them access to more dangerous drugs.

There is a safer way of regulating cannabis, which is why leading economies around the world are moving to legalise cannabis consumption – letting adults be adults and grow and consume cannabis in the privacy of their own homes.

The responsible regulation of cannabis in Victoria will reduce harm, particularly for young people and Indigenous Victorians. It will save money by reducing the costs of law enforcement, and it will promote consumer safety by taking cannabis off the illicit market and out of the hands of organised crime.

That is why today I introduce the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis) Bill 2023.

This bill will allow the adult personal possession of small quantities of cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC; allow adults to grow up to six cannabis plants at home, with a maximum of six plants per residence; allow the adult consumption of cannabis or THC, but not in a public place; and allow adults to gift a small quantity of cannabis or THC.

It will remain an offence for children under the age of 18 to access cannabis or to be supplied with cannabis.

In many respects, this is not a big paradigm shift, even for Australia. Cautioning and diversion programs currently exist in this state to achieve the same end and have done for decades, but they have huge limitations.

The Northern Territory and South Australia have decriminalised minor cannabis use and possession and now treat it as a civil matter, not a criminal one.

The Australian Capital Territory has legalised cannabis possession, use and cultivation. Arrests for low-level cannabis offences plummeted following these reforms, and data demonstrates there have been no negative effects on public health.

Today, I ask this Parliament to do the same. This bill adopts a similar approach to that introduced in the ACT, while addressing its legislative shortfalls.

Turning to the detail of the bill, clause 1 sets out its purpose, clause 2 provides for the bill’s commencement and clause 3 provides that, for the purposes of the bill, the principal act is the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981.

Clause 4 inserts new part IVC, ‘Personal adult use of cannabis’, into the principal act. The new clauses contained within that part give effect to the purposes I have outlined and are fulsomely explained in the explanatory memorandum.

Clause 5 amends the principal act to clarify that the possession of a small quantity of cannabis or THC is only an offence if committed by a person under the age of 18.

Clause 6 provides for the automatic repeal of the amending act.

Research evidence indicates that this approach to cannabis reform will reduce the costs to society, will reduce the social costs to individuals and does not increase cannabis use.

This is intelligent reform that allows for the safe and responsible adult use of cannabis.

I, on behalf of Legalise Cannabis Victoria, commend the bill to the house.