The inquiry has heard that the current prohibition model does not adequately or effectively address risks associated with cannabis and the illicit market. “Current cannabis policy undeniably causes harm, but particularly for adolescent and young adults, who can experience long-lasting and disproportionate harms from the criminal justice system, particularly if they acquire a criminal record due to a minor cannabis offence,” Professor Dan Lubman is the Executive Clinical Director of Turning Point and spoke to the committee on April 21st.
In 2020, 11,789 people were charged for use or possession of cannabis, an increase of 28% on the previous year. A drug conviction can be ruinous for someone’s career and the conviction often poses a larger threat to family and social stability than use of the plant itself. And those who are struggling with a substance use problem are hindered rather than helped by this process.
Executive Officer of Harm Reduction Victoria, Sione Crawford spoke to the difficulties faced by people who have entered the criminal justice system. “It may seem counterintuitive to people who have never been involved in a criminalised activity like illicit drug use and dependence, but really it is not simple to reach out for help, and it is important we do anything we can to make it easier for the minority of users who have problematic use to reach out.”
Cannabis policy currently entrenches harm and stigma, while all too often failing to actually provide help to those who most need it. And as is often the case with harmful policy, vulnerable communities often bear the brunt of uneven enforcement.
Kin Leong is the Principal Managing Lawyer, Criminal Law Practice at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and spoke to the inquiry at a regional hearing in Beechworth. Kin notes that there has been a growing emphasis from police on use and possession offences involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. “The number of incidents of use and possession involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has risen by 55.5 per cent in the last five years and 97.5 per cent since 2011… That is substantially greater than the overall increase in the wider community where there’s been 25.8 per cent in the last five years. ”
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service echoes many other submissions who wish to see a move away from the criminal justice approach and toward a public health focused response.
“Research demonstrates that therapeutic intervention is the best way to deal, manage, recover and rehabilitate from any cannabis disorder. Currently access is inconsistent and highly discretionary. This is particularly concerning because when discretion rests with police and police prosecutors in the magistrates’ court, this typically leads to a worse outcome for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The full report is currently scheduled to be tabled on the 5th of August.
You can read transcripts from the hearings and submissions to the inquiry at the Parliament website.