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

Lottie Twyford 27 October 2021 54
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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54 Responses to Drug decriminalisation could make the ACT a ‘target for organised crime’, AFP Commissioner says
Lewis Sadders Lewis Sadders 11:12 am 31 Oct 21

Yeah it could, but it won’t. Look at any country that has implemented similar policies around the world. This is scaremongering so cops can power trip by arresting people who just want to have fun without hurting anyone else. Pathetic

John Giacon John Giacon 6:28 am 31 Oct 21

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?

John Walker John Walker 2:39 pm 29 Oct 21

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/

Frederick Beauregard Frederick Beauregard 11:22 am 29 Oct 21

Surely this isnt real? Decriminalisation of heroin? Who in their right might would even thing this garbage up?

Colin Trinder Colin Trinder 5:31 am 29 Oct 21

It's interesting that it is only ex-Police commissioners that ever suggest any strategy other than the one that involves employing massive numbers of Police doing exactly the same thing they have done unsuccessfully for the last 60 or 70 years.

kenbehrens kenbehrens 7:31 pm 28 Oct 21

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?

    chewy14 chewy14 9:38 pm 28 Oct 21

    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 Johnston Brian Johnston 4:58 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.

Douglas Kirk Douglas Kirk 3:52 pm 28 Oct 21


John Moulis John Moulis 3:48 pm 28 Oct 21

“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.

Rebecca Perrau Rebecca Perrau 3:24 pm 28 Oct 21

Dumb decision

Johnny Grey Johnny Grey 3:14 pm 28 Oct 21

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

Steph Anglim Lagones Steph Anglim Lagones 2:05 pm 28 Oct 21

Harm reduction should be the goal 😞 doesn’t sound as good as aiming for 0 drug use though so the pollies don’t care. Decriminalisation has been proven again and again to reduce harm and reduce violent crime unlike criminalisation.

It hasn’t been working so why are they so set on continuing to use a system that is failing?

Andrew Lyttle Andrew Lyttle 2:00 pm 28 Oct 21

It already is a target

Greg Myat Greg Myat 1:57 pm 28 Oct 21

The harder you go on drug law enforcement the deeper it goes under ground. Decriminalising it will benefit users and the community by making the problem more identifiable, giving users a greater chance of support getting off the crap. Just like cigarettes and alcohol.

    Tobias John Clarke Tobias John Clarke 7:19 am 29 Oct 21

    Greg Myat yet i think 'decriminalizing' still leaves criminals as the drug suppliers and all that dole money still goes to them. Perhaps if the government made the junk they could regulate and tax it, use the money for rehabs and so on

T T 1:56 pm 28 Oct 21

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.

Ash Latimer Ash Latimer 12:59 pm 28 Oct 21

This affects health and employment outcomes waaaaay more than supply and manufacture which would still be inherently illegal. Old attitude in a progressing world, get a grip with reality please.

Jeannou Zoides Jeannou Zoides 12:53 pm 28 Oct 21

Agree with him why not open the floodgates to drug traffickers can’t believe you Labor and your young rep

Angela Hunter Angela Hunter 12:37 pm 28 Oct 21

What a ridiculous assertion. Decriminalisation or legalisation actually remove the need for a criminal element. 🙄

Christopher Stuart Veilands Christopher Stuart Veilands 12:03 pm 28 Oct 21

No doubt Barr will just ignore this

John Boland John Boland 12:00 pm 28 Oct 21

We listen to the Climate Scientists on climate change , we listen to the Health Advice on the Pandemic, but lets not listen to the AFP on matters that relate to Crime and Drugs that destroy lives and livelihoods? yep makes a lot of sense...

    Liam Thomas Liam Thomas 12:36 pm 28 Oct 21

    John Boland Theres actually experts that have shown with extensive evidence that decriminalising drugs leads to reduced usage and harm. The AFP are not the experts in this area, they are definitely a highly important stakeholder, but not experts.

    Liam Thomas Liam Thomas 12:41 pm 28 Oct 21

    John Boland Ill actually reiterate that with almost every commissioner inquiry they have raised in recent years towards drug use has recommended decriminalisation as the option.

    Ash Latimer Ash Latimer 1:08 pm 28 Oct 21

    John Boland this guy knows that decriminalisation works for substance abuse, because more addicts are willing to seek help knowing that they won’t be reported and receive a criminal conviction.

    What he actually means to say is that a significant source of AFP revenue through fines will be lost if decriminalisation laws are implemented, which translates to less need for AFP officers.

    The fact that a substance user seeks help and has better outcomes through a decriminalised process simply doesn’t support, let alone encourage, a black market supply. Conservative politics like to blur the line between decriminalisation and legalisation which are inherently 2 separate things.

    David Field David Field 4:07 pm 28 Oct 21

    Liam Thomas look at some footage of the current situation in san Fransisco. Holy crap! We do not want to end up like them…

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