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Proposal to decriminalise drugs in Canberra

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Canberra drug decriminalisation proposal should have been taken to election: Liberals


The Canberra Liberals say Labor has blindsided Canberrans and should have taken its proposed drug decriminalisation laws to the October territory election.


Backbencher Michael Pettersson says he will introduce a private members bill in the first sitting week of the Legislative Assembly next year. It would allow people to be dealt with through civil penalties for possessing drugs including heroin, ice and MDMA.

Liberal leader and shadow attorney-general Elizabeth Lee said the party was open to working with the government on the proposed legislation, but the community should have been consulted before it was sprung on them.


Other drugs like LSD and amphetamines would also be included in the private members' bill.

The consultation draft bill, seen by The Canberra Times, would allow police to issue $100 fines to people caught with drugs instead of charging them criminally.

"The biggest concern we had is this comes less than two months after the ACT election, there was no indication whatsoever in the lead up to the election this was even on Labor's radar," Ms Lee said.

"I'm very concerned there has been a complete lack of consultation with our health experts, with our legal experts and with various stakeholders including people who have experience in this space."

Ms Lee said she supported any measures that would reduce the harms of drugs.

"But I don't think it needs to be a mutually exclusive thing," she said.

"On the one hand from a criminal justice perspective and on the other hand from a health perspective. I think there is scope and room for looking at it holistically."

Ms Lee pointed to a motion Mr Pettersson put before the Assembly earlier this year. It resolved a feasibility study into partially decriminalising drugs would be completed by November 2021.

She questioned why he was jumping the gun.


Australian Federal Police Association president Alex Caruana says the organisation didn't necessarily oppose the idea, but questioned whether the ACT had the necessary diversion health programs in place.

"There is also a large jump from cannabis, to MDMA and then to heroin and ice, which will require a lot more consultation and engagement," he said.

"In relation to road safety, ACT Policing can't detect heroin, LSD or magic mushroom via a roadside drug test, so this will need to be addressed. Also, 2 grams of heroin is quite a lot; it's roughly $800 worth of drugs.

"We also don't know what position the federal government may take on the matter. As previously mentioned, cannabis is one thing: ice and heroin is another matter."

Mr Caruana was also disappointed Mr Pettersson had not consulted with the organisation before releasing the consultation draft legislation.

"We've had some great early-day discussions with the ACT Greens on drug reform and raising the age of criminal responsibility. If the ACT Greens can consult before legislative work is done on matters, why can't ACT Labor members?" he said.

Mr Pettersson says consultation can be done, and amendments made, while the bill is before the Legislative Assembly.

Attorney-General and Greens leader Shane Rattenbury has so far declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

But ACT Greens drugs spokesman Johnathan Davis said he was excited by the proposed legislation.

"The Greens took a bold election commitment to the last election to minimise the harm that drugs cause in our community," he said.

"I am very excited and keen to work through this legislation with my progressive Legislation Assembly colleagues to get the best outcome for Canberrans."

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he personally supported drug decriminalisation.

"This is an important public policy debate," she said.

"I'm pleased Mr Pettersson has put this on the legislative agenda for 2021.

"I personally support the policy direction of the proposed reform but will want to look at this bill closely next year.

"The process from here will most likely see a Legislative Assembly Committee conduct an examination of the policy issues and the proposed legislation."

Mr Barr said cabinet would consider the bill and any proposed amendments multiple times throughout out next year.

"It may then come before the Legislative Assembly for a vote towards the end of 2021," he said.

Barrister and former president of the ACT Bar Association Steven Whybrow welcome the proposed legislation, saying similar proposals overseas had not "opened the flood gates" to more drugs use.

"People who are dealers and manufacturers of drugs are not going to benefit from this," he said

"Delivering people who are using drugs into health and education intervention programs is in my view going to be a more productive and positive approach to the problem of illicit drugs than sending them through the courts.

"People would still need to understand it's not becoming legal to use these drugs but it's being moved into a lower category of criminal offending like a traffic infringement notice."

An ACT Policing spokeswoman said the force would need to consider the bill in detail before forming a view on it.

"ACT Policing is committed to harm minimisation initiatives, and has always actively engaged with government and other stakeholders on strategies and legislative change," she said.

"Any decision on these matters ultimately is a matter for government and the ACT Legislative Assembly.

"Our message first and foremost is not to take illicit substances at all.

"ACT Policing actively works to detect, disrupt and prosecute those who supply and profit from the illicit drug market."


Edited by Slocombe
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I should add to this that the MLA that is proposing the change has put up an exposure draft for comment. I'm sure he would welcome constructive feedback.













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I think constructive criticism should include rewriting the way they measure amounts. Currently, any container or carrier is included in the weight of a substance. So, it sounds great in theory when they say 0.002g of lsd would be a ticket. But. Do they include the weight of the bag also (they do this with cannabis). If, for example, your lsd was on a.sugar cube, that would weigh a lot more than the allowed amount and you might get pinged.

It also seems a little odd that the mdma limit is 0.5g yet heroin is 2g. I know a lot of people that might polish off 0.5g of mdma in a session, but I'd be surprised if anyone would be using 2g of heroin at a time.

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I read that the amounts have been selected to be just under Federal trafficking thresholds.

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