1 September 2023

What will the ACT's new drug decriminalisation laws actually mean?

| Lizzie Waymouth
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The ACT’s new drug legislation will come into force on 28 October 2023. Photo: File.

The ACT drug decriminalisation laws come into effect in October.

In recent weeks, the debate over the laws has heated up. While it is unknown what effect the reforms will have on drug use, here’s what the law says.

Penalties for personal possession of small amounts of the most commonly used hard drugs will be reduced in the ACT under the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Act 2022, making the Territory the first jurisdiction in Australia to decriminalise small quantities of illicit drugs.

From 28 October 2023, a person in the ACT may be issued a ‘simple drug offence notice’ if they are caught in possession of ‘small quantities’ of certain drugs, as specified by the act.

The possession limit for cocaine, amphetamine and ice will be 1.5 grams. The limit for ecstasy will be 1.5 grams or five doses, and there will also be a five-dose limit for LSD. The limit for heroin will be 1 gram.

Only drug possession is decriminalised, which means it is still an offence to supply drugs.

Possession limits of 50 grams of dried cannabis and 150 grams of harvested cannabis will apply.

Under the act, the drugs will be confiscated and the person will be issued a $100 fine or directed to attend an assessment and harm reduction session. This may also result in referral to (voluntary) treatment if appropriate.

In most instances, police will seek to divert or fine an individual, but police will retain the power to arrest an individual. It is still at the discretion of the police which course of action will be undertaken.

However, if the matter proceeds to court, the person will no longer face imprisonment, but rather a maximum $160 fine (one penalty unit), reduced from 50 penalty units and/or two years in prison.

The new legislation also reduces the maximum prison sentence for personal possession of drugs above a small amount.

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Chris Gough, executive director of the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA), said there is still “some confusion in the community about what the laws are”.

“We’re helping ACT Health and the ACT Government to do some of that communication,” he said, adding that CAHMA will be rolling out a communication campaign around this topic.

Mr Gough acknowledged it’s “quite a tricky law” as the possession limits the government is using don’t follow the drug trafficking threshold that distinguishes between ‘users’ and ‘traffickers’. Instead, it uses a new ‘small quantities’ amount.

He said it’s important people stay informed and learn about the changes before they come into effect.

“People need to be aware that the changes don’t start until 28 October and make sure they check on the ACT Health website.”

Mr Gough said people also need to be aware that the police can still decide to charge someone caught possessing illicit drugs.

“What the community needs to be aware of, unlike what the media is saying, is police discretion is still involved.

“Police can decide to charge you with possession or they can decide to give you a simple drug notice.”

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Mr Gough explained that the new law follows the same path as the ACT’s decriminalisation of cannabis, which first started in 1992.

The Drugs of Dependence (Amendment) Act 1992 created the ‘simple cannabis offence’ for possession of amounts under 25 grams, much the same as the simple drug offence notice coming into effect in October.

“The simple drug offence notice is very well trodden,” he said. “We did it in 1992. Now we’ve decided society is comfortable to go to the next step.”

Mr Gough said he has no reason to believe the laws will cause a rise in drug use. Rather, the decriminalisation of drugs has been shown to help break down the stigma and shame associated with drug use, which encourages people to seek help.

He pointed out that since the possession of small amounts of cannabis was decriminalised in the ACT in 2020, there has been a fourfold increase in people coming to CAHMA to talk about cannabis use – not because more people are using it, but because more people feel safer to talk about it.

Mr Gough said CAHMA is preparing to expand its services to ensure it can support more people looking to treat substance addiction, including expanding its clinic rooms and community centre to add more consultation rooms.

For more information, visit the ACT Health website.

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Absolutely no thought or consideration has been given to the safety of non drug addicts within the community. Allowing hard drugs for personal use will only result in increased street violence, unsafe public transport, increased meth residue on public playgrounds, more houses becoming meth cook labs, resulting in toxic chemicals being exposed to the community and increased road accidents due to drug driving.

As for the negative stigma associated with drug use, addicts are a major heath problem and financial burden for society. Hence, the negative stigma. Not to mention respect has to be earned. If drug addicts want respect from the community, they need to earn it by physically demonstrating that they can adhere to basic societal norms like the rest of us instead of making excuses for their actions.

Life is hard for everyone, everyone suffers from mental health issues yet some self-centred individuals turn to hard drugs while the rest of us maintain dignity, self respect and care for the community.

Linda Seaniger3:13 am 08 Sep 23

It’s very considerate of us to allow drug users and drug traffickers to apply their trade and hobbies, and it no longer is a criminal offence.

liveandletlive7:46 am 08 Sep 23

Did you only read half the story Linda – “Only drug possession is decriminalised, which means it is still an offence to supply drugs.” While I do understand all the concerns raised here, wasn’t it said that the sign of madness is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result (or words to that effect). How has criminalising drugs gone over the past 50 years? Total failure would be my assessment. Should someone get a criminal record that could affect their whole life for smoking a joint? We need to try something different, and while this won’t be the silver bullet and save the world from drugs, I applaud trying someing new.

liveandletlive – “Only drug possession is decriminalised, which means it is still an offence to supply drugs.” Supply and demand now. More demand, more supply, more crime, domestic violence, criminal gangs – murder. You progressives have blinkers on

liveandletlive10:49 am 09 Sep 23

Futureproof – Is there really going to be an increase in crime – murder?? I’m not convinced. Do you really think that someone who has never done ice or heroin is suddenly going to go out and try it because the penalty is less? People have done drugs for years, no matter what the law said – criminalization just doesn’t work. So, what is your solution to the problem? Do you have one? Continuing to do the same thing we have always done is just kicking the can down the road. I’m happy to try something new that actually may work. Progressive? Happy to wear that tag. Have a good day.

Linda Seaniger3:10 am 08 Sep 23

Madness. We will be the drug capital of Australia and traffickers can apply their trade with little to no consequences.

Bravo for commenting without either reading or comprehending the article, Linda! Ignorance is better than any drug, am I right?

What are treatment programs going to do exactly? If you legalised theft, you think people are going to restrain themself from shoplifting at a supermarket because they attend a program explaining to them that morally speaking what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours?

I’d suggest Mr Gough have a walk through Garema Place occasionally. He might get some idea about the reality of the effects of hard drugs.

As I read this from our woke Govedrnment, we also need to determine what our view of drugs is ie are they harmful. Then all of those who use drugs should get themselves registered in a drug treatment program MANDATORY! The authorities will know who they are. Unfortunately, once someone is high on them, then Superman can take over and leap from tall buildings, jump in a car and kill someone and get off due to mental impairment. Not good enough. This is America and I would hate to see it here-just confronting and why we need to take it seriously. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4gD7GAdM-U

Looks like some people have been getting into the angry pills early 🤣

They’re not legal yet comrade

Prepare your house for break and enters. That’s my advice

On the plus side, police will have more time to investigate actual crime now that they don’t have to waste resources on petty possession nonsense. International data shows the decriminalisation has minimal impact on usage rates. Welcome to Cocanberra

pierce you are delusional. The only crimes that occur in Canberra are all drug fuelled! Robberies occur in order to pay for drug addiction. Murders related to gang violence are all linked back to drugs. You don’t have a normal person in society waking up one day and deciding to murder someone for the sheer fun of it. Disturbed mental states are always drug induced.

The progressives will say, ‘she’ll be right.’ The reality will be organised crime syndicates supplying these hard drugs. The leftie lovies never think of this – everything is taken care of by the fairies in the garden

Rob McGuigan12:51 pm 02 Sep 23

AGREE! Quite typical of the ACT Territory government unfortunately. More WOKE and more Socialist/Marxist left than any other state or federal government has ever been. And worse wants to go even further left. All this is going to do is make break and enters, other petty theft and organised crime flourish in the ACT. See how quickly the left get sick of the crime wave that everyone knows is coming just around the corner.

Jamie Benton12:03 am 04 Sep 23

Stupid comment. Who do you think provided them in the first place??? They didnt say trafficking was legalised, that will still be illegal, the difference beign they will have more time and resources to commit to catching the traffockers inatead of wasting time chasing people with an addiction. Arresting an addict for possession makes no difference, first thing he does is go score again while clogging the courts time up, ruining his future job prospects And not helping the medical problem at all, it just makes it less likely to get him off drugs. Decriminalising it to the point it doesnt ruin his life saves court time, makes access to care not so taboo abd lowers recidivism rates in people quitting. and it also frees justice system up to focus more on the trafficking side of it that you so wisely pointed out. Having the opposite effect to your opinion. Do your research on dependance lvls in other places that tried it before you talk.

Jamie how will they be able to catch traffickers? How do you know who is a trafficker and who is a user? Cartels will just run mules through Canberra carrying small enough amounts to not get caught. And you haven’t fixed the importation problem because they will always find a way into the country regardless. Border force are easily bribed.

Indonesia is an example of a country with effective drug laws. There is no drug problem in their society because they are tough on drugs.

liveandletlive10:54 am 09 Sep 23

No drug problem in Indonesia? – You’re delusional. Do some research.

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