27 October 2021

Drug decriminalisation could make the ACT a 'target for organised crime', AFP Commissioner says

| Lottie Twyford
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AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw told a Senate Estimates committee the ACT could become a target for organised crime if drugs were decriminalised. Photo: Screenshot.

A proposal to decriminalise various amounts of drugs including cocaine, heroin, acid and MDMA would mean police are “busier” and could see the ACT become a target for organised crime, a parliamentary committee has been told this week.

Speaking at a Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee earlier this week, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said the experience of overseas jurisdictions had shown there were many consequences to the decriminalisation of the drugs, including ‘narco-tourism’.

Under the current proposal from ACT Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, people would not face criminal sanctions for possessing small amounts of certain drugs.

Instead, people caught with drugs for personal possession would only receive a fine and be diverted to a health program.

Currently, a person could be sentenced to two years in jail for the offence.

Mr Pettersson has previously said “the criminal justice system isn’t the deterrent we think it is”, given that after 100 years of prohibition, drugs usage rates have not gone down.

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Commissioner Kershaw said the AFP would continue to give ACT Policing advice about the “unforeseen consequences” if the bill came into effect.

“It’s going to mean organised crime will want to target this community; in particular, because they can move their product quite easily,” he said.

“It just makes it more difficult for us to combat the rise of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin use, and they’re not recreational drugs.”

Commissioner Kershaw said community safety and driving offences should also be taken into account.

ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja said he found the idea of these drugs being decriminalised “incredibly distressing” and “the last thing our city needs”.

Former MLA and Leader of the Belco Party Bill Stefaniak previously came under fire for revealing his own drug use. Photo: File.

Commissioner Kershaw’s comments also came to the attention of former Canberra Liberals Attorney-General and current leader of the Belco Party, Bill Stefaniak.

Mr Stefaniak urged the Assembly not to decriminalise drugs but divert a person possessing small quantities of illicit drugs to a rehabilitation program in the first instance.

He also called on the ACT Government to conduct a “significant education campaign” on the harm of drug use.

Mr Stefaniak’s son was killed in a car accident in 2018 where the driver was drug-affected at the time.

He’s previously come under fire for making an admission of prior drug use to the drug decriminalisation bill inquiry in July.

Michael Pettersson

Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson introduced a bill to decriminalise various amounts of drugs. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

In its submission to the bill in June, ACT Policing said while they supported the principle of the proposal, they were concerned about the proposed threshold limits for some of the drugs and said further clarification, including around operational difficulties, was needed.

They also said drug trafficking could be an unintended consequence of the bill.

The full scope of Mr Pettersson’s proposal is still being determined as it is going through Assembly committees.

It will likely be presented to the Assembly at the end of this year. It would be the first of its kind in any jurisdiction in Australia.

Mr Pettersson also introduced the bill that legalised cannabis possession in the ACT which came into effect last year.

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If Mr Kershaw sees drug use as basically a criminal act would he not have all police regularly tested for drug use, by an independent body? And would he not suggest, even insist, that many others, including politicians, be so tested?

It’s time the Commissioner looked at the evidence – After decriminalisation of personal possession in 2001 in Portugal, numbers of overdose deaths went from 369 in 1999 to 30 in 2016; new HIV diagnoses from 907 (2000) to 18 (2017), and numbers imprisoned for drug offences from 3863(1999) to 1140 (2017).

Source https://www.statista.com/chart/20616/key-developments-since-portugal-decriminalized-drugs/

Capital Retro6:11 pm 29 Oct 21

They have trams in Portugal, too.

I can’t for the life of me understand how decriminalising small amounts of drugs sends a good message to our youth!
It’s softens the image of drugs, by saying a little bit is ok.
There are obvious flow on implications for increased drug use (individuals taking more drugs and more people using) and crime, including driving under the “influence”.
How about some good old fashion morals and family values from the ACT Government?

Why do you think certain drugs should be illegal in the first place?

Particularly when other harmful drugs like alcohol or cigarettes are legal

Brian Johnston4:58 pm 28 Oct 21

An engaging education campaign should be the first port of call for the ACT Assembly before changing the law. We have young people who’s education about drugs seems to come from drug culture movies, crime TV and influencers being busted on Instagram snorting “white powder”.
How about some ex users telling their story to ACT youth about the harms of drug addiction.

“Narco-tourism”. Don’t you just love the way they come up with these catchy buzzwords and slogans? Don’t delve into the issue with any great depth or intellectual rigour, just come up with a catchy word or phrase and (hopefully) have everybody reaching for the smelling salts.

Really Commissioner, you’re not on Sky News or Ray Hadley’s show now.

He would say that, wouldn’t he.
Police always want to have their idea of control of drug use.

It would be great if they could legalise medical marijuana for people as an alternative to pain management medications and to help people with sleep disorders or issues.

Hmmm, I wonder how the government could remove “organised crime” from the equation of selling these drugs?

It’s almost like if there were companies who could make and sell them legally under government regulation, there would be no market for organised crime gangs.

Nah, no need to think about it too deeply, drugs r bad mmmkay.

Don’t really have an opinion on this – don’t know enough – but the last two years have made me think the government’s position is to destroy Canberra.

Kershaw is a bureaucrat & is saying things that will please his political masters.
He did not provide any evidence to support his claims.
A lot of senior police admit, after they retire, that their dug enforcement policy failed miserably and they should have supported harm minimisation.

Interesting article. Its thrust is that legalisation reduces crimes including robberies, murders and aggravated assaults. However, in the USA criminals travel from less progressive States without legalisation to commit crimes to get their hands on marijuana to sell back in their home black market.
Given the first conclusion, the long term solution is to advance the less progressive States reducing crime everywhere, so Kershaw is fundamentally wrong, you agree, poorman.

I wholeheartedly disagree with you Franky22. All the current and retired police officers I know are for harder punishments at court rather than allowing decriminalisation of drugs.

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