MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:13:14): I move:
That this house:
(1) notes that:
(a) according to Victoria Police, the illegal cannabis industry in Victoria is worth an estimated $8.1 billion per annum;
(b) the largest cohort of cannabis users in Victoria are young people;
(c) significant police and justice resources are committed to the unlawful use and supply of cannabis every year;
(2) requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into, consider and report, by no later than 2 March 2020, into the best means to:
(a) prevent young people and children from accessing and using cannabis in Victoria;
(b) protect public health and public safety in relation to the use of cannabis in Victoria;
(c) implement health education campaigns and programs to ensure children and young people are aware of the dangers of drug use—in particular, cannabis use;
(d) prevent criminal activity relating to the illegal cannabis trade in Victoria;
and further requires the committee to assess models from international jurisdictions that have been successful in achieving these outcomes and consider how they may be adapted for Victoria.
This is a motion that may come as a surprise to some people here, but it does come as no surprise to anyone in this chamber that the Reason Party has had a longstanding policy of legalising, regulating and taxing cannabis use for adults.
My previous motion on the notice paper, which I have today withdrawn, was for a much narrower inquiry focusing only on the commercial legalisation of cannabis in Victoria. In these last few months I have modified that position and thought on how this Parliament should tackle cannabis. I realised that cannabis is much bigger and a more complicated issue.
This motion is a direct result of conversations I have had with the community, health organisations, doctors, nurses, youth workers, lawyers, students, prison workers, police, people at train stations and in cafes and other MPs in this house and in the other place.
Our community is crying out for a conversation about cannabis, the most widely used illicit drug in Victoria and Australia. What health effects is cannabis use having in our community and how can we help better educate particularly young people on cannabis use as it relates to their mental health? How do we stop criminal syndicates profiteering from the sale of cannabis given that there are billions of dollars changing hands every year—profits I add that many criminal gangs then used to fund other illegal activities, such as the manufacture of drugs like ice.
Some people believe that we could absolutely stop the use of cannabis if we could just better police its supply and punish offenders more severely. Others believe that the free market should prevail and it should control the supply and consumption of cannabis. Most other people seem to have a position somewhere on the spectrum between these two. But absolutely no-one believes that what we are doing now is working.
This motion simply poses the question: how do we keep cannabis out of the hands of young people and criminals? Australians, Victorians included, are some of the highest cannabis users in the world. In fact young Victorians use cannabis twice as much as tobacco. According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016, 22 per cent of young people use cannabis while only 11 per cent of them use tobacco—exactly double.
In addition, Victorians in their 20s are about twice as likely to use cannabis as people in their 40s. That is 22 per cent compared with 10.3 per cent. Recent use of cannabis amongst males in their 40s and 50s, and those aged 60 and older, is at the highest rate seen over 15 years, indicating that there may be an ageing cohort of cannabis users. I think that comes as no surprise; we may call it the baby boomers.
More females in their 30s used cannabis in the previous 12 months in 2016, so we have seen a significant increase over the last three or four years. Ten per cent of Victorians have consumed cannabis in the past 12 months, and that figure is steadily rising.
We are some of the biggest cannabis users in the world. What are we doing to protect the health and safety of those 100 000 or so Victorians? Education campaigns around cannabis have been pathetic really. Many in this chamber will remember the infamous ‘Stoner Sloth’ campaign. It went viral, but for all the wrong reasons.
The drug law reform report that was produced by the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee considered public health, public safety and education and concluded that there was a lot more to be done in this area. There was very little response from the government to this report. While the report looked at cannabis, it really came to the conclusion, as I say, that more needed to be done, and this inquiry will help us to establish what does need to be done.
The police recognise that the illicit cannabis industry in Victoria is worth $8 billion annually. In their submission to the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee last year they stated: Victoria Police has identified that the cultivation and trafficking of cannabis often involves serious and organised crime. Flow-on effects have seen invasions of grow houses, extreme violence, proceeds used to fund other criminal activity, theft of electricity and grow houses presenting significant fire hazards, along with health and safety risks to police and emergency services members.
But Victoria is not alone in this. Many other jurisdictions are tackling similar-sized operations. We have repeatedly heard from politicians and police that we cannot arrest our way out of the issue of drug use, but it appears we keep trying.
The most recent figures I could find were the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s Illicit Drug Data Report 2015–16. In that year, 25 683 Victorians were arrested for the possession of drugs and 1688 were arrested for supply; 51 per cent of those were for cannabis. That means that 13 000 Victorians were arrested in one year for the possession of cannabis. It is a huge arrest rate and yet the figures show that cannabis use is steadily increasing in Victoria.
As a senior police officer admitted to the Age journalist John Silvester, ‘Melbourne is the engine room of the country’s cannabis industry’, or as others have put it, the ‘mull bowl’ of Australia. He went on to say that this lucrative arm of organised crime is dominated by Vietnamese and Albanian syndicates that use a large part of the profits to make amphetamines and import ice, cocaine and heroin. The stressed rental market is being stripped of properties, with more than 1000 being used as cannabis hothouses at any one time. We can help put a stop to this.
This motion will explore how we can better deal with cannabis, what we can do to keep it out of the hands of criminals and children and how we can better educate the public about the ongoing effects of cannabis use, in particular the mental health issues often associated with it.
In conclusion, this motion recognises two things. Firstly, that cannabis is the largest illicit drug that Victoria has and will ever know, with huge drawings on the public purse to fund the current regulatory model that does not really deal with it. Secondly, the use of cannabis continues to increase in the community despite the record funding levels of this model of regulation.
The increasing usage of cannabis is most notably with young people under the age of 25, while the supply of cannabis is being provided by an ever increasing network of organised crime syndicates.
Parents and concerned citizens all over Victoria want to know what is going on, how we can best protect their children from harmful drugs and which system or which model could offer more promise in removing organised crime from our society.
So I look forward to other comments on this motion, and in particular from my crossbench colleagues. I thank them for being supportive of me.
I am also grateful to the people who have made helpful suggestions on this motion and what we wish this inquiry to explore. I commend my motion to the house.
The house debated the motion. Refer to Hansard for full debate.
MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:27:33): Thank you to everyone who contributed. I will just start quickly with the government’s contributions. I accept that the government has done some work and I recognise—Mr Limbrick also noted this—that the government has worked around harm minimisation principles, and that is what this motion is about.
This motion is directly about how we minimise the harm of the widespread cannabis use in our community. I note that the government has put up an amendment to add to the inquiry the question of how we can address mental health in our community and how we can address the sometimes negative mental health effects that cannabis has on some people.
I think that is sensible, I think that works well alongside the Royal Commission into Mental Health and I would hope and expect that the inquiry will add to that body of work and will, with any luck, look at some of the solutions to that.
In listening to everyone who contributed, as I stated from the outset, we all have different approaches to how we can fix this issue, how we can keep cannabis out of the hands of criminals, how we can keep our young people safer and how we can educate them better around cannabis use.
But what was clear from everyone here is that what we are doing now is not working. What we are doing now is not stopping the criminals. What we are doing now is not stopping young people from accessing cannabis.
Ms Crozier argued that this inquiry was unnecessary, but on the same hand she also argued that what we are doing now is not working. She argued that we could rely on the drug law reform report that was produced last year. I was part of the inquiry—in fact I initiated that inquiry—and I will note that the opposition at the time opposed that inquiry, saying that that inquiry was not necessary. I am very pleased to hear that they now congratulate us on that inquiry and the wonderful and important work that that inquiry actually resulted in.
However, I do not think it was enough, and what it did highlight was the gaps in this area. It highlighted that we do have a problem. It did not address solutions, and that is what I hope this inquiry will do.
This is not going to be easy, but as many of the contributions noted, other jurisdiction have asked this question and other jurisdictions are finding solutions. Other jurisdictions are taking this industry out of the hands of criminals. Other jurisdictions are regulating it and controlling it and ensuring that young people do not have access to this product and do not have access to yet another drug.
As many said, nobody is suggesting that this drug is safe, that cannabis is safe. What we are suggesting is that prohibition does not make it safer—in fact quite the opposite: prohibition makes it much more dangerous and quite obviously does not prevent anyone from accessing it.
Acting President Bourman, you raised the interesting issue of comparing drug prohibition with gun control. What I would argue is that guns are regulated and cannabis is prohibited. What we are suggesting is that maybe there is another way. Strict regulation of this product may reduce the harms, may remove criminals and may assist the police in getting on with addressing some of the more important issues of the day, like family violence and like the increasing number of women who are being killed each year in Victoria.
As Mr Grimley, who has very recent experience in drug control, stated, largely arrests are futile. They do not stop the industry. They close down one hothouse and another one pops up.
So I appreciate the contributions here. I think they were very thoughtful contributions, and I thought it was interesting that while we all came from different places we largely came to a consensus on this issue.
I would just like to note Dr Ratnam’s concern about how we came to drawing out the terms of reference for this inquiry. Now, I make no apology that I support the legalisation of cannabis. However, I do strongly believe that an approach like this—talking about how criminals are involved in this, speaking about how young people have greater access to cannabis than anybody else in our community—is what the community wants us to talk about first.
The federal Greens might go on about a government-owned cannabis industry, but I do not think that is where Victorians are ready to go, and I think listening to the large and diverse range of people here today shows that we are ready to have this conversation.
We are ready to have a grown-up conversation about how we can better deal with a product that, as I say, over 10 per cent of Victorians are regularly using, over 20 per cent of Victorians under the age of 25 are regularly using and is worth over $8 billion to criminals in this state.
So I look forward to this inquiry and I commend it to the house.
Amendment agreed to. House divided on amended motion:
|Barton, Mr||Leane, Mr||Ratnam, Dr|
|Cumming, Dr||Limbrick, Mr||Shing, Ms|
|Dalidakis, Mr||Maxwell, Ms||Somyurek, Mr|
|Elasmar, Mr||Meddick, Mr||Stitt, Ms (Teller)|
|Garrett, Ms||Melhem, Mr||Symes, Ms|
|Grimley, Mr||Mikakos, Ms||Taylor, Ms|
|Hayes, Mr||Patten, Ms (Teller)||Terpstra, Ms|
|Jennings, Mr||Pulford, Ms||Tierney, Ms|
|Kieu, Dr||Quilty, Mr||Vaghela, Ms|
|Atkinson, Mr||Davis, Mr||O’Donohue, Mr (Teller)|
|Bath, Ms (Teller)||Finn, Mr||Rich-Phillips, Mr|
|Bourman, Mr||Lovell, Ms||Wooldridge, Ms|
|Crozier, Ms||McArthur, Mrs|
Amended motion agreed to.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Reference to Legal and Social Issues Committee 29/5/19