16 July 2021

Stefaniak called a hypocrite over drug decriminalisation after admitting casual use

| Dominic Giannini
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Michael Pettersson

Michael Pettersson has lashed out at former ACT Attorney-General Bill Stefaniak. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Former ACT Attorney-General and current leader of the Belco Party, Bill Stefaniak, said the ACT’s proposed drug decriminalisation bill does nothing to stop or discourage drug dealers and will only serve to boost their business.

But Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, who introduced the decriminalisation bill, has hit back at Mr Stefaniak, calling him a hypocrite for his opposition to drug decriminalisation after admitting to drug use.

Mr Stefaniak admits using cannabis three or four times in the past – although he’d “never buy the stuff” – and once “unwittingly used what my mates and I think was LSD put into apples by a mate of ours – who is now famous”.

Mr Stefaniak made the admissions in his submission to the drug decriminalisation bill inquiry.

Describing Mr Stefaniak’s position as “genuinely incredible”, Mr Pettersson said the former Canberra Liberals Attorney-General evidently did not realise that these activities were at odds with the position he was advocating and that the drug quantities for personal use were based on Commonwealth law.

Mr Stefaniak said he supported the infringement notice scheme for small quantities of cannabis which would see the user issued with a $100 fine. This scheme was repealed when a bill by Mr Pettersson legalised up to 50 grams of cannabis for personal use.

The former prosecutor and defence counsel said the bill addressed a non-existent problem as he rarely saw evidence of people ending up in court just charged with possession of small quantities of drugs.

“I really cannot recall anyone going to jail in Canberra for just possession of a small quantity of illicit drugs,” Mr Stefaniak said.

“It was always linked to more substantive crimes like serious assaults or armed robbery and the like.”

Former MLA Bill Stefaniak

Former MLA Bill Stefaniak has registered his opposition to the proposed drug decriminalisation bill. Photo: File.

Mr Pettersson said other offences remained illegal and perpetrators would face criminal sanctions, with changes to the laws only bringing the ACT into line with the practices already employed by ACT Policing.

“ACT police do not target and go after individual consumers of these substances; police do not do that as a good use of their time,” he said.

“We already accept that police do not view this as a priority, so it is about time that our laws reflect what is actually happening in practice.

“The NSW Liberal Government is currently considering a very similar proposal. This is not an idea unique to the ACT. It is something that is being considered across the political spectrum. It is a sensible step forward.”

READ MORE “Modern-day leper”: How drug policy is isolating Canberrans from help

NSW Police raised concerns with the bill in their own submission, saying that changes in legislation would “have adverse impacts on policing capabilities, safety to communities and demands on other government and non-government supports services”.

“Recent region-facilitated drug-focused operations within the Monaro area suggests there is a strong network between offenders residing in the Monaro area with drug supply networks operating within the ACT,” the submission said.

“The types of drugs trafficking from the ACT to NSW include methylamphetamines, MDMA and cocaine.

“The proposed changes will not only add an element of confusion to the enforcement of cross-jurisdictional legislation but will contribute to an increase in drug-related crime.”

READ MORE ACT Policing worried drug decriminalisation could inadvertently enable trafficking

Concerns were also raised about drug driving rates, with police in the NSW Southern Region experiencing “a significant increase of drug-related major traffic crash incidents for the period 2020 as compared to 2019”, accord to the submission.

There had also been a 12.5 per cent increase in offenders who were detected drug driving providing an ACT address, NSW Police said.

Mr Petterrson said drug driving remained illegal and that more resources to reduce occurrences of drug driving were welcomed and could be done independently of the proposed legislation.

The bill is currently before an ACT Legislative Assembly Committee, which is due to hand down its report in October.

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Mike of Canberra11:02 pm 16 Jul 21

Bill Stefaniak has questioned legislation introduced by Michael Pettersson in the Legislative Assembly to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of pot, heroin and methamphetamines. Mr Pettersson’s response? He attacks Stefaniak’s legitimacy in criticising the bill because he, himself, has admitted to using pot in his youth. I have a little insight for Mr Pettersson: when he actually grows up and enters the real world, he may learn that, in the 1960s and 70s when Stefaniak was young, virtually everyone had a go at smoking pot at one time or another. It was all part of the growing up process. That, however, was a far cry from dabbling with heroin and ice, both almost certain to destroy an individual’s life if persisted with. He also may care to consider Stefaniak’s own circumstances in having lost a son in recent years as the direct result of running with a crowd that dabbled in drugs. All Mr Pettersson has demonstrated in this episode is that he is still a callow youth and unsuited to the important work of representing the ACT community in the Legislative Assembly.

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