By Nick Wallis. Legalise Cannabis Victoria
Victoria’s Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee have been hearing from folks who made submissions to the Inquiry into the Use of Cannabis in Victoria and it’s been an interesting ride hearing from a range of individuals and organisations. Experts, consumers and prohibitionists alike have had their voices heard by Victorian politicians.
The inquiry is nearing completion, with a report due to be tabled in parliament on the 5th of August. We eagerly await the recommendations of this inquiry to help provide next steps on our journey toward reforming Victoria’s archaic cannabis prohibition legislation.
Over 1460 submissions were made to this inquiry, the vast majority supportive of a change to the current laws surrounding cannabis. The inquiry heard that the risks associated with cannabis use are not well controlled or accounted for under the current prohibition model, where a wide-ranging black market exists. “Current cannabis policy undeniably causes harm, but particularly for adolescent and young adults, who can experience long-lasting and disproportionate harms from the criminal justice system, particularly if they acquire a criminal record due to a minor cannabis offence,” Professor Dan Lubman is the Executive Clinical Director of Turning Point and spoke to the committee on April 21st.
The prohibition of cannabis in Victoria in the first place was a matter of politics, never of health. Prohibition of this plant and the people who use it has not resulted in better health or social outcomes for our community. A drug conviction can be ruinous for someone’s career and the conviction often poses a larger threat to family and social stability than use of the plant itself.
Yet here in Victoria, despite our apparent ‘progressive’ reputation, 11,789 people were charged for use or possession alone in 2020. A year defined by lockdowns, where people were more likely to be at home in front of their computer or TV, and we had a 28% increase in arrests for the crime of daring to have or use a plant for yourself.
Sione Crawford is the Executive Officer of Harm Reduction Victoria and highlights the difficulties faced by people who have entered the criminal justice system, “It may seem counterintuitive to people who have never been involved in a criminalised activity like illicit drug use and dependence, but really it is not simple to reach out for help, and it is important we do anything we can to make it easier for the minority of users who have problematic use to reach out.”
This is a plant that almost half of all Australians have tried in their life time, and more than one in ten regularly using. And 41% of Australians support the legalisation of cannabis, while only 37% disagree (the rest are undecided). These figures alone demonstrate the political will to try a different approach.
The fact is that people can experience harm from using cannabis. But the question remains, how does prohibition make this situation any better for those that do need help?
It is a vast minority of users who do experience harm from their cannabis use, and many harms are exacerbated or even outright caused by the prohibition of this plant.
If we really care about those who experience problems from any kind of substance use, the solution is not to criminalise their lifestyle or drug of choice. There is no evidence that such a policy response helps anyone, while plenty of evidence exists to show the harm of cannabis prohibition.