Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:26): Pursuant to standing order 23.29, I lay on the table a report from the Legal and Social Issues Committee on the inquiry into the use of cannabis in Victoria, including an appendix, extracts of proceedings and minority reports. I further present transcripts of evidence, and I move:
That the transcripts of evidence lie on the table and the report be published.
Motion agreed to.
Ms PATTEN: I move: That the Council take note of this report. Despite the incredibly disappointing start to today and the information that we saw in the Age, I am very proud of this report. I think this is actually a foundational report. It is probably one of the first in Australia that goes into such detail about the use of cannabis and the current circumstances and the effects of the current legislation not just here in Victoria but we also considered legislation around the country and internationally.
This is, as I say, a foundational report. It is an extremely comprehensive report, and my thanks go to the research team and the committee team, who worked in really difficult circumstances. I mean, I know all committees when working under COVID understand how difficult it is to bring together people and to try and tease out sometimes very personal information while doing it over a computer screen, so I express my really deep gratitude to Kieran Crowe, Caitlin Connally and Justine Donohue under the management of initially Lilian Topic and later and currently Matt Newington.
I would also like to thank my colleagues on this committee, because we did do a lot of work. There were numerous submissions. In fact there were 1475 written submissions to this committee, which is I think close to setting a record for submissions to a committee. We did numerous public hearings, including a regional hearing in the town of Beechworth.
We had a youth forum here to really tease out the issues, because we know that the use of cannabis is far more prevalent in young people. We have 21 findings and 17 recommendations. The main recommendation is that the government investigate the impacts of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria. The overwhelming majority of stakeholders supported the need for cannabis law reform.
This was not about whether cannabis should be available or not. What we heard is cannabis is readily available. In fact over a third of Victorians have used cannabis and close to 30 per cent of young people regularly use cannabis. So this is not about whether it should be available or not. This is about how we regulate it. Right now Victoria spends millions of dollars criminalising cannabis, and criminal organisations make millions of dollars from supplying cannabis.
If we were to listen to the experts—for the last 18 months we have been saying, ‘Listen to the health experts’—we would be looking for reform, and this report really makes the case for reform. The findings in it are detailed, and the evidence we received was significant. We heard from the police, we heard from health organisations, we heard from legal organisations and we heard from the general public. In fact when looking through some of the submissions this morning I came across one by Regina Clark, and she wrote: Illegality of cannabis has created a … windfall for organised crime. It creates links between ordinary citizens and criminals that undermines faith in the law.
We looked at the education, or lack of it, about drugs in our schools, and certainly we have made some significant recommendations around improvements to be made in drug education. We looked at the link between cannabis and mental health, and we followed many of the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System—that we need to better fund and support drug and alcohol treatment programs in Victoria. This is absolutely crucial.
We looked at the current diversion schemes and youth caution schemes for people who are caught with small amounts of cannabis or using cannabis and the need to probably reform those as well. I think this report and its findings really do deeply reflect the evidence that we heard, and I think that the evidence we heard is very reflective of where the community is on this issue: drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal one.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Report tabled 5/8/21