December 01, 2023 |
The Federation supports prioritising health-based responses to drug use, including the decriminalisation of possession and personal use of cannabis. We see the Regulation of Cannabis (Personal Use) Bill 2023 as an important step towards achieving this goal.
In Victoria, in the year to September 2021, there were almost 9,000 people charged with cannabis use and possession offences, with profound consequences for those entering the criminal legal system.
Instead of criminalisation and incarceration, the Federation supports rehabilitative and health-based approaches to drug-related offences. Investment in harm-reduction responses to drug use would stop unnecessary criminalisation and incarceration, while decreasing pressure on the criminal legal system. Our approach of harm minimisation is in line with the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System.
The criminalisation of cannabis is also associated with over-policing in communities, particularly First Nations communities, fostering distrust of the police and the criminal legal system. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities in Victoria have been devastated by discriminatory policing and continue to be stopped, searched, arrested, charged and imprisoned far more often than non-Aboriginal people. Dragged into the criminal legal system by the discriminatory enforcement of low-level offences, Aboriginal people are further traumatised by police and prisons, and denied the support they need to avoid re-entering the same cycle.
Criminalisation and incarceration negatively impact individuals, families and society and perpetuate cycles of crime, poverty and disadvantage.
We call upon the Victorian Government to commit to the adoption of health-based harm reduction responses to drug use. We believe that reinvesting resources that would otherwise be spent on law enforcement, prosecution and incarceration into community-based health and treatment services will make communities safer and more equal for all Victorians.
Louisa Gibbs, CEO at the Federation of Community Legal Centres said:
“Cannabis possession and use does not require a criminal response, but a response that focuses on the health and rehabilitation of the individual. Evidence shows us this rehabilitation approach is both more effective and less costly than the enforcement of criminalisation and in some cases incarceration of people using cannabis. The Regulation of Cannabis Bill that Legalise Cannabis Victoria has put forward is one part of a broader set of reforms that we support to reduce unnecessary criminalisation.
“Community Legal Centres provide free legal advice, representation and casework for individuals and communities experiencing hardship and disadvantage, and advocate for social change and justice on behalf of the communities they serve.
“We hope that the Victorian Government will recognise the need for drug reform, and invest in community-based outreach programs and rehabilitation as an alternative solution to drug use.”