21 October 2022

ACT passes drug decriminalisation laws: here's what it means

| Lottie Twyford
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A major swathe of nation-leading drug decriminalisation laws have passed the ACT Legislative Assembly. Photo: File.

The Territory has just become the first jurisdiction in the country to decriminalise small amounts of hard drugs after a day of passionate and very lengthy debate.

In 12 months, being caught with ice, cocaine and heroin (below certain thresholds) will no longer result in a criminal sanction.

Instead, the drugs will be confiscated, the possessor issued a $100 fine or be directed to attend a health-based drug diversion program.

Possession limits for cocaine, amphetamine, MDMA and methylamphetamine are capped at 1.5 grams and heroin at one gram.

It’s part of what Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has long described as a move to treating drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue.

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Trafficking and drug supply will continue to be targeted and the bill will be reviewed after two years.

After the government in June signalled its intent to support a long-time push from Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, the laws passed the ACT Legislative Assembly yesterday evening (20 October) after a day of impassioned debate.

It follows the decriminalisation of small amounts of cannabis in 2019. That push was also spearheaded by Mr Pettersson.

Michael Pettersson

Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson said the war on drugs had failed. Photo: Region.

Mr Pettersson said it was time to accept the war on drugs had failed as it had neither stopped nor reduced drug use.

“It’s time we move away from this primitive system which does not work,” he said.

“[This] is a sensible, evidence-based approach to drug policy. The bill is about harm reduction and reducing ordinary people’s interaction with the criminal justice system.”

He said law enforcement should respond to drug possession in the same way a “caring, well-intentioned” parent of a young adult would – through confiscating the drugs, educating them about the dangers, issuing a non-life-threatening punishment and getting them health support.

While the Canberra Liberals remain vehemently opposed to decriminalising drugs, the ACT Greens pushed the government to go further.

Jeremy Hanson

Deputy Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson has described the new laws as dangerous and radical. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Deputy Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said the “dangerous” laws would lead to an increase in meth and heroin use, and the reforms were not supported by police at a local or federal level.

“It’s not the case that drug users are being locked up. It’s just not true,” he argued.

“Users are being diverted, but we need those criminal sanctions in order to divert people to those treatment places.”

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He said what is needed is an increase in resourcing to drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Ms Stephen-Smith has argued it’s already happening.

Mr Hanson tried to delay implementation of the bill until 2024 – after the next election – accusing ACT Labor of not having been upfront with the community as they did not run on this policy platform at the last election.

He confirmed the Liberals would revoke the laws if elected.

Johnathan davis

ACT Greens backbencher Johnathan Davis tried to push the government further on its drug decriminalisation path. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

A swathe of amendments put forward by ACT Greens backbencher Johnathan Davis also failed, including dramatically increasing the drug possession limits proposed by the government. But Ms Stephen-Smith argued more significant limits were not backed by evidence.

Ultimately, the laws passed with the possession limits as defined by the government.

ACT Policing continues to have concerns about the laws leading to an uptick in the number of people driving while under the influence of drugs.

Previously, police have also raised the possibility of the Territory being targeted by drug dealers and traffickers.

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To ensure the laws passed the Assembly and there was time to debate each party’s amendments, the government suspended normal business.

The Canberra Liberals were less than pleased with these arrangements. Mr Hanson accused the government of engaging in a “shabby process”.

During the 12-month implementation period, police training, communication and messaging of the changes and a review of administration arrangements will take place.

It will be reviewed after two years.

Ms Stephen-Smith has pointed to several other initiatives to change how drug use is dealt with in the community, including the fixed pill testing trial, Aboriginal-community-led healthcare in the prison and the redevelopment of the Watson healthcare precinct.

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Putting aside the pros and cons, the Labor government have made this significant change without seeking a mandate from the people. Liberals are right to say they will make this an issue for the 2024 election.

The ACT Labor policy platform for the 2020 election states they only want to enable pill testing trials at music festivals and decriminalise the use of cannabis. Their current policy platform agreed to at the 2021 conference states for drug law reform they only want to decriminalise the use of cannabis and establish a heroin injecting room.

The Labor government have made this significant change without even the approval of the ACT Labor membership. This government has gone rogue.

Virtually every poll on this ever overwhelmingly thinks criminalization is stupid. It’s more irresponsible to ruin people’s lives for deciding what to put in their own body than it is to hurry this along. It’s also irresponsible to rush along a policy to strip search children in public hoping to find drugs on them that don’t harm anyone.

Drug reforms until a pollie get’s bashed by a dope head

Sharon Annells10:39 am 22 Oct 22

My adult children were recently in the US. They went to Vegas and the drug problems there after legalization are out of control. Affected Drug users were everywhere, abusing innocent people who were just walking about looking at the sites. I would hate to see Canberra turn out like this.

We’re not far off unfortunately

Research demonstrated that the environment is the greatest predictor of mammalian brains on recreational drugs and behaviour. Build a healthy society, get well socialised animals with few drug problems. Look it up. Build a better society and quit your whinging about those suffering and finding a way to soothe the pain.

Doesn’t go far enough. Outlaw Heroin and Ice. Lockup anyone who possesses them for a couple of years and dealers for 20 years.

Produce our own pharmaceutical Ecstasy and other minor drugs. Sell from licensed premises with appropriate health warnings.

Then we have taken the criminality totally out and provided safer alternatives for those that want a high. We also have a new income stream for the Government.

Prohibition isn’t working and good kids are needlessly dying buying criminally produced unsafe drugs.

It’s amazing that legislation like this piece of garbage can be rushed through like it has.

Yet, when there is genuine community concern about implementing harsher bail laws, the excuses from Barr & Rattenbury against change is reprehensible.

Mr Hanson is correct when he says the new legislation is dangerous.

Hay it’s Gary Stuart again!! This piece of legislation Gary was brought on in the Assembly last year. Jeremy Hanson, his party and The Young Liberals have been on a crusade ever since to undermine and slander supporters of drug law reform. From my point of view these new laws are weak and show just how little interest the ACT Labor/Greens government has towards drug law reform

Hi Jack – a bit damp outside today for hugging trees?

Yep Gary it is looking a bit damp outside. But really, is that the best you can come up with?

No it’s not Jack D but I’m at work and, as hard as I try, I can’t do comedic mic drops on you at the same time as I’m indoctrinating primary schoolers to the ways of the far right. Todays lesson was goose stepping in unison to Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk”

Oh you are so funny Gary Stuart! The best you can come up with is far flung arguments on indoctrinating primary schoolers, far right goose stepping and uptown Funk
Onya Gary

Why doesn’t it surprise me that you don’t have a sense of humour Jack?

Oh hang on – one of your own got caught out with an OMCG member and “forgot” to report it. That’s heaps funnier than anything I could’ve dreamt up.

Chin up mate and have a good weekend 🤣

** Notes that Gary and Jack appear to be the same person .

Fortunately not DJA. I suspect Jack feels the same

Separated at birth DVA! We’re just reconnecting!!

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