ACT to decriminalise small amount of drugs

·2-min read

The ACT government will support a private members bill to decriminalise small amounts of illicit drugs including cocaine, heroin and MDMA.

The bill gives police the ability to fine someone caught in possession of illegal drugs rather than divert them through the criminal justice system, where they currently face up to two years in jail for the offence.

A person could also choose to attend a drug diversion program as opposed to facing the $100 fine.

It follows the decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use in 2019.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says support of the bill followed an ACT Legislative Assembly committee recommending it be passed with amendments to ensure it met the government's harm reduction policy.

Trafficking offences will not be changed under the bill.

"Illicit drugs are harmful and the ACT government will continue to take a strong stance against drug dealers. This bill does not change that view," Ms Stephen-Smith says.

"The government and ACT Policing will continue to work to reduce supply and prosecute dealers and traffickers through the justice system."

Government amendments will remove methodone, which is regulated as a pharmaceutical drug, and will move the list of drugs to regulation so the government can "ensure flexibility in responding to changes in the market".

Ms Stephen-Smith said evidence showed criminalising drug use doesn't reduce drug use, and that substance abuse needed to be treated as a health issue.

"Treating drug addiction as a health issue improves outcomes for everyone in the community," she said.

"The government will ensure through amendments that the principle of harm reduction is front and centre of our approach to this change."

Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson introduced the private members bill at the start of 2021 before it was sent to the committee.

The committee subsequently recommended the bill pass the ACT's unicameral Assembly, which is controlled by a Labor-Greens coalition government.

ACT Policing previously raised concerns that the quantity of drugs listed exceeded personal use and could be considered a trafficable quantity.

Mr Pettersson says the limits in the bill are below the Commonwealth's drug trafficking threshold, which is more stringent than the ACT's.

The thresholds in the bill include 0.5-grams of MDMA; 50-grams of dried cannabis; two grams of cocaine; two grams of heroin; two grams of methylamphetamine; two grams of psilocybine (found in mushrooms); and 0.002-grams of LSD.

The ACT government has also proposed a 12-month implementation period.

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