Fiona Patten MLC has tabled the Law Reform, Road Safety Committee Report on Drug Law Reform in the Legislative Council, that she initiated in November 2015.
The comprehensive 680 page report with 50 recommendations received extensive evidence and research from a wide range of experts and peak organisations from Australia and internationally. In all it received over 230 submissions and the report’s recommendations reflect the information received from highly respected organisations such as the Coroner’s Court of Victoria, the Australian Medical Association, Jesuit Social Services, Victorian Legal and many more. The committee also looked at the policies and practices of other Australian states and territories and overseas jurisdictions and their approach to drug policies on treatment, prevention, harm reduction and supply reduction. It considered how some of the most effective models could be adopted into Victorian law and health practice.
Dr Alex Wodak contributed extensively to the inquiry. As President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and previous director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney he said: “The war on drugs approach has failed comprehensively. Health and social measures should be made the primary response rather than continuing to rely heavily on law enforcement. Drug treatment should be expanded and improved. It’s time to stop punishing people found in possession of personal quantities of illicit drugs and start regulating more of the drug market. Conditions for young people have to be improved to reduce the demand for psychoactive drugs”.
Ms Patten said that the report was the most comprehensive report on drug law reform that Australia had seen in decades. “When I referred this inquiry to the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee in 2015 the key aim of the report was to investigate the effectiveness of Victoria’s drug control laws and procedures in minimising drug related harm” she said. “This was not about legalising drugs, but at looking at how effective our drug policy is and how we can improve it”.
Recommendations from the report include:
– Recommendation 3: To Establish an Advisory Council on Drugs Policy (ACDP) council to advise the Victorian Government on drug related issues
– Recommendation 13: To treat the offences of personal use and possession for all illicit substances as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, exploring alternative models for the treatment of these offenses, such as the Portugal model of reform.
– Recommendation 23: That the ACDP explore international developments in the regulated supply of cannabis for adult use and advise the Government on policy outcomes in areas such as prevalence rates, public safety, and reducing the scale and scope of the illicit drug market.
“While I would have liked to see the report go further I believe that this report and its recommendations accurately reflect community attitudes to drug policy today” she said. “We now understand that drug use is a health and social issue that law enforcement cannot solve. We need root and branch change. But there are also simple things that we can do. We keep saying that we can’t arrest our way out of the issue of drug use, yet in most people’s minds we continue to so. We can keep bringing on more treatment beds and prison cells but this is really like spending millions to have an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff rather than building a much cheaper fence at the top.”
Ms Patten has been a passionate advocate for drug law reform since her election in 2014 and the only MP who admits to occasional cannabis use. In 2017, she was instrumental in securing Victoria’s first Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. The government’s support for the trial indicated a clear shift towards a health-based approach to drug use.
Steph Tzanetis, Harm Reduction Victoria said: “Everyone here at Harm Reduction Victoria is eager to read the committee’s findings, but it’s how the state government responds within the next 6-months that’s of critical importance. As HRVic’s DanceWize Program Coordinator, I’d love to see health-focused reform that promotes evidence-based drug policies and stops wasting police resources on low level drug offences, which in turn will mean fewer young people become unnecessarily entangled in the criminal justice system or risk their life trying to avoid being detected with petty amounts.”
– Fiona Patten MP, 27.03.18
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