The battle over drug decriminalisation is expected to heat up with the ACT Greens to push the government even further when the bill comes up for debate today (3 August).
Greens spokesperson for drug reform Johnathan Davis has raised concerns about some of the government’s proposed amendments, which it will table today, arguing they risk criminalising vulnerable people.
He also opposes the government’s proposed upper limits for drug possession.
“If you’re going to do a job, do it properly,” he said.
Mr Davis will present his proposed changes to the bill today.
The Canberra Liberals remain in strident opposition to the bill, saying it will lead to more people using drugs.
In June, Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith announced the government would move ahead with the push started by Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson to decriminalise small amounts of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin and MDMA.
Mr Pettersson introduced the private member’s bill in February 2021.
That bill was then referred to a Legislative Assembly standing committee which concluded it should be passed but some of the upper limits should be rethought.
However, the chair of the committee, Liberal MLA Peter Cain, provided a dissenting report.
Other critics have claimed the bill would make the ACT a target for drug trafficking.
The original bill proposed decriminalising possession of up to two grams of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines and 0.5 grams of MDMA.
The government’s proposed amendments are expected to reduce those thresholds to 1.5 grams for amphetamines, cocaine and methylamphetamine, for example.
MDMA would be limited to 1.5 grams and heroin to one gram.
It would also allow people caught with drugs to have the option to either pay a $100 fine or be directed to attend a health-based drug diversion program.
The government also wants the bill to be reviewed after two years of operation.
A further amendment would include adjusting the personal possession limits so they are “not more” rather than “less than” set amounts.
The government’s amendments also create a new kind of composite offence where possessing multiple drugs that total over two small quantities leads to an $8000 fine or a six months’ jail time.
The Greens argue this is effectively retaining criminal penalties for the personal possession of drugs and risks criminalising vulnerable people.
“The ACT Greens have always championed drug law reform because we know that a compassionate society supports our most vulnerable and that drug use should be considered a health issue, not a criminal one,” Mr Davis said.
He will introduce further amendments of his own today which would retain the current personal possession thresholds initially proposed by Mr Pettersson.
Mr Davis has also proposed an exemption for all adults to the charge of possession of all drugs, similar to the current exemption in place for the possession of cannabis.
He said the war on drugs had failed and it was time to try something else.
“We need to do this right the first time and listen to experts and evidence in this space and not make knee-jerk reactions based on what feels right or what protects the status quo,” he said.
The debate on the bill today is expected to be long with several members wanting to contribute.