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Legislative Council

29 November 2023
Second reading
Georgie Crozier  (LIB)


Georgie CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (14:39): I rise to speak to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis) Bill 2023 that has been presented by Ms Payne from the Legalise Cannabis Party, and I want to thank her for the very extensive and detailed information that she has provided to me and to my colleagues and to Ms Kealy, who is the shadow minister in this area. I really thank her for providing that information. And can I say that I do understand many of those points that you have provided to us around the issue of young people, around possession and around the number of young people that have been charged with cannabis use and possession of drugs and what we need to do in relation to that very large cohort. It is concerning that the numbers are growing, as outlined by Ms Payne to me. I think she said in 2019 there were 9000 people charged with cannabis use, and in the three years to June 2019 there were 11,498 people convicted. Significant numbers of people have been charged. I do hear that, and I do want to acknowledge that.

What I want to make a few points about is that what this bill aims to do is basically make it lawful for an adult to cultivate a certain number of cannabis plants and to possess and use small quantities of cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol and authorise certain activities related to the cultivation of cannabis plants and the personal use of cannabis. There are various amendments in the bill that look at a person over the age of 18 that will be able to cultivate no more than six cannabis plants at the person’s principal place of residence for personal use. New section 69Y authorises the limited manufacture of cannabis in preparation for personal use. New section 69Z authorises a person over the age of 18 years to possess a small quantity of cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol and to possess not more than six cannabis plants cultivated at that person’s principal place of residence. New section 69ZA authorises a person over the age of 18 to use cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol provided that use does not occur in a public place.

The bill goes on to authorise a person of or over the age of 18 to be able to give a gift of cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol provided the gift is made in a small quantity to another adult. This also clarifies that a gift not made for payment, consideration, barter, exchange or other compensation is not an offence under the principal act. The legislation’s new sections authorise a person of or over the age of 18 to use or possess items related to the cultivation or manufacture of cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol provided the person intends to cultivate or manufacture cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol for personal use.

Finally, there is another section which authorises a person of or over the age of 18 to publish documents containing instructions for the cultivation or manufacture of cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol for personal use provided that the documents do not contain instructions relating to trafficking. The last part of what Ms Payne wants to achieve through this private members bill is for an owner or occupier of land or premises to permit another person of or over the age of 18 to cultivate cannabis plants at the premises.

That is all very technical, but what it means is that to enable that personal use, somebody can have six plants in their own home and use them, and that sounds fine. The concern I have is that the ACT has gone along this path and legalised personal use, but the cannabis party’s bill goes further than the ACT’s legislation. The ACT decriminalised cannabis use in 2020, almost three years ago. What they have in place is the cultivation of up to two cannabis plants per person, with a maximum of four plants per household, and you are allowed cannabis in your home for personal use. In the ACT it is an offence to expose a child or young person to cannabis smoke. This bill is silent on that. It is an offence to store cannabis where children can reach it. This bill is silent on the storage of cannabis where children can reach it. It is an offence to grow cannabis using hydroponics or artificial cultivation, and this bill is silent on that aspect. In the ACT it is an offence to grow plants where the public can access them, and it is an offence to sell, share or gift cannabis to another person. Gifting of cannabis is specifically allowed in the legislation that we are debating today.

In Victoria obviously we do not want young people to be caught up and then have a criminal conviction because they have had a small amount of cannabis on them. I think everyone wants a commonsense approach to that. Obviously the police will make that assessment, but I think there needs to be a bit of common sense. If somebody is caught or they are repeatedly caught, they do have the ability for diversion and to undertake the cautioning with cannabis programs that are provided.

Frankly, it does not really bother me if somebody just goes out and smokes a joint now and again. But I do have concerns about the long-term effects of cannabis use on many, many people, and it has been a concern for me for many years. As we know, some people can manage, but many, many other people cannot. I want to read a media release from the AMA, who made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which was examining a bill. The AMA said they are worried that:

… there are many short-term and long-term risks posed by recreational cannabis.

I want to read this in because I think it is important, and this is my concern about where we are at:

Legalising cannabis for recreational purposes sends the wrong signal to the public, and especially to young Australians, that cannabis use is not harmful –

this is AMA president Professor Steve Robson saying this –

We know from a recent systematic review that there was an increase in acute cannabis poisoning post-legalisation in the US, Canada, and Thailand.

When I have looked at various documents in the US – and there are many states in the US that have legalised it – there is data coming out, and that data is quite alarming in relation to potentially traffic accidents and crime. They also note that it is not marijuana of the 1970s, 40 years on, that it is a far more potent substance and that therefore it has a much more significant effect, and that is what is concerning many lawmakers and medical specialists in the US looking at that data that is coming out over years of having cannabis legalised. The AMA obviously has those concerns too around those recent reviews that have been undertaken in these areas where cannabis has been legalised for years. I will go back to this press release:

We also know there are already many Australians suffering detrimental health outcomes caused by recreational cannabis use. We see poor mental health outcomes from cannabis use including anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, memory loss and an increased incidence of schizophrenia.

Cannabis use can lead to physical ill-health conditions such as bronchitis or cancer, cardiovascular system damage, and impaired reaction time and brain function.

I think these are the concerns for me in this bill. It sounds quite harmless, but when you take into consideration what the use is and what potentially could happen by sending that message to young people that this is a safe drug, that it is fine, but it really does have these very significant mental and physical health impacts, that is the AMA’s concern as well. I do think that there are harm reduction measures that are in place, and we need to do more. On that I listened to the Minister for Mental Health. They have obviously got concerns, and they want to continue the discussion with the cannabis party. But clearly the government is getting similar data and concerns from medical experts around some of those issues and the harm minimisation that needs to be done.

I also note that in the AMA’s submission they express concern that people may use recreational cannabis products to self-medicate. They are urging patients to speak to their doctor about that and to discuss better treatment methods, because they are worried about people going off and using cannabis in replacement for other medication that is regulated through the TGA and has GP approval and allows for GP oversight of medical conditions. For those reasons I am concerned that while it sounds like a simple thing, it is more complex than just allowing someone to have a few pot plants – pardon the pun ‍– in the backyard and what that will mean. For those reasons and because this bill goes further than what is already in place in the ACT, I am of the view that we need more data to come in on this.

I hope the government is doing this body of work. I have been to America and spoken to some experts in this area, some years ago now, but it is up to the government to have a look at the data that is coming in through those systematic reviews and understand the potency of cannabis and what is out there now and how that can impact young people. We do understand that more needs to be done on harm minimisation. We do understand that we need to look at those issues around a health approach rather than just any kid that has a bit of dope on them gets a criminal record. I think we need to have some common sense around that as well, so I hope the government is working towards that.

I do finally want to say that I know that when we did the inquiry into the use of cannabis in Victoria in 2021, when I was on that committee – it was an extensive undertaking, that inquiry – the police came and spoke to us about their concerns. I would hope the government is continually speaking to the agencies that are affected around this and working on those concerns that were raised in that report back in 2021. But I say again that I think the views of the AMA, in that media release that I have referred to of 10 November this year and in their submission to the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee examining a bill to legalise cannabis for recreational use, must be taken into consideration by all levels of government. On the basis of those concerns, the opposition will not be supporting this bill at this time.